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The influence of nature and nurture is a long-standing concern in developmental psychology as well as in literature. It is like the question of the egg and the hen: which one comes first? This dissertation, in a bid to understand better the influence of nature and nurture, undertakes a study of Bessie Head’s A Woman Alone and The Cardinals— novels that are autobiographical as well as fictional. It is interesting to note that after a detailed study of the characters in the two novels concerned, it is obvious that Bessie Head’s message is that NURTURE is the dominant or primary factor in shaping human behaviours in life; NATURE is therefore secondary.


Title Page
Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction
1.1 Theoretical Framework
1.2 Background of the Author
1.3 Statement of the Problem
1.4 Aims of Study
1.5 Significance of the Study
1.6 Scope of the Study
1.7 Methodology

2.0 Review of Related Literature
2.1 Concept of Nature and Nurture
2.2 Critical Works on Bessie Head two Selected Novels and other Related Works
2.3 Summary of Literature Review

3.0 Influence of Nature and Nurture in Literature
3.1 Influence of Nature and Nurture in African Literature
3.2 Influence of Nature and Nurture on the Major Characters in The Cardinals

4.0 Influence of Nature and Nurture on Major Characters in A Woman Alone
4.1 Nature, Nurture and Apartheid in A Woman Alone

5.0 Nature, Nurture and Apartheid in Bessie Heads The Cardinals
5.1 Summary of Findings
5.2 Recommendations
5.3 Suggestions for Further Studies
5.4 Conclusion
Primary Texts
Secondary Texts



This study examines nature and nurture (environment) as they shape personalities of Bessie Head’s characters and even herself (the author). Nature and nurture are important in understanding the mental state of Head’s characters.

Nature according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary refers to the essential qualities of a thing; the inherent and inseparable combination of properties essentially pertaining to anything and giving it, its fundamental character. It is also defined as the inherent power or force by which the physical and mental activities of man are sustained. It is the sum of qualities and attributes which make a person what he is. In other words, nature shapes the personalities of individual, the natural or real aspects of a person, place, or thing; the qualities with which people are born (including genetic make-up, stable personality traits, animal instincts, etc).The aforementioned attributes contribute a lot in making us what we are.

Mcclearn (1993) echoes the same thought when he refers to nature as our genetic gift, which gives us physical traits such as hair colour, and form of the body (33). Nature is those genetic inbuilt traits that we are born with. It is all the physical qualities that are being passed to us by our parents or relations; even the dead ones. It is that indestructible matrix upon which character is built and whose shape it must take and keep throughout life. This is what is called person’s nature.

The importance of nurture in human behaviour involves the ways in which it is shaped by society and environment. It focuses on Watson’s theory of behaviourism, which is the theory that human behaviour is acquired, rather than being innate. Human beings learn behaviour from observation and emulation of those around them, as well as through language. It is from this social interaction that people develop their distinct personalities and behavioural patterns. Without social interaction, personality rarely, if at all, develops, and distinct behaviour is infinitesimal. Social interactions and experiences combine over time to influence people’s thinking, feeling, and acting out in particular ways. For example, research shows that children who have parents that are smokers are much more likely to smoke. Such children observe and copy the act of smoking from their parents, and possibly with input from peers, etc. They come to understand that such a behaviour is right for them.

The importance of nature in human behaviour involves the genetic or inborn traits that make people to act the way they do. For years, people believe that human behaviour, is genetic; that a violent person is born violent. The thinking that behaviour is genetic is becoming less and less popular. Nature does not seem to determine human behaviour directly. However, it is not to say that genetics have known influence on human behaviour. Nature determines the maximum IQ a person can have, the maximum height he can achieve, his hair colour, etc. When it comes to say, height, it is nurture that determines when a person stops growing, but it is nature that provides the maximum of height; the right nurture may determine where they fall in the range, but not matter what, nature will not let that person grow beyond that maximum height. For instance let’s say, a person’s maximum height at adulthood is only four feet; the chances of such a person pursuing professional basketball will be very low. In other words, a person who, by......

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