Truth and History in David’s Story

Although the premise of Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story seems to focus on David’s formation of a History of the Colored population in South Africa, the novel rejects the notion that such a formal, written History is possible by questioning the Truth it would contain. Instead, the novel argues that history is subjective and the truth behind it cannot be proven, which is why David has such a complex relationship with writing his own story.

The novel’s lack of a traditional linear narrative is a reflection of David’s belief that the way History is usually told doesn’t necessarily lead to Truth. In the preface, his amanuensis addresses her frustration with his circular way of telling his history. David’s explanation that, “If there is such a thing as truth…it has to be left to its own devices, find its own way,” not only questions whether or not truth exists but also suggests that truth is a flexible concept open to various interpretations rather than only one (2). This belief could stem from David’s reaction to the fact that the formal History of South Africa does not include a history of the Colored population. Although the institutional history is thought of as true, he knows that it isn’t, because it doesn’t include the history of his people. He emphasizes the malleability that stories (and truth) have when he describes how authors can “shuffle the pages around, if necessary, until they make sense,” denoting the importance of an author’s subjectivity in a work (140). This manipulation becomes problematic in the creation or telling of history, because it raises questions about the author’s credibility and the text’s relationship to truth.

Although he is trying to make sense of his past, he also is hesitant to claim his version of events as an absolute truth. He demonstrates this hesitation when he attempts to write and “destroys it as soon as he arrives at conclusions” (107). His destruction of his own conclusions illustrate his rejection of history as something exclusive and conclusive (much like the formal history of South Africa), implying that he believes it should be inclusive and open-ended. Additionally, he debases his memories and understanding of the past when he questions his credibility as a historian: “Is there any way of telling, when I was once so clear about what happened, the sequence of events, and I am now equally sure about the new version? Why believe anything at all?”(142-143). David is not only encouraging the reader of his story to question its truth but also inviting them to create their own truth from the information provided.

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