The evolution of the strike causes an evolution in the self-perceptions of the Africans themselves, one that is most noticeable in the women of Bamako, Thies, and Dakar. These women go from seemingly standing behind the men in their lives, to walking alongside them and eventually marching ahead of them. When the men are able to work the jobs that the train factory provides them, the women are responsible for running the markets, preparing the food, and rearing the children. But the onset of the strike gives the role of bread-winner-or perhaps more precisely bread scavenger-to the women. Women go from supporting the strike to participating in the strike. Eventually it is the women that march on foot, over four days from Thies to Dakar. Many of the men originally oppose this women's march, but it is precisely this show of determination from those that the French had dismissed as "concubines" that makes clear the strikers' relentlessness. The women's march causes the French to understand the nature of the willpower that they are facing, and shortly after the French agree to the demands of the strikers.
Perhaps no female character better captures transformation of the African female than Penda. Penda is first introduced as an unmarried women who breaks custom by having "periodic escapades" with men (Ousmane 137). But the experience of the strike turns what once was anger and stubborn independence to dedication and selfless communalism. Her strength of spirit leads the union officials to seek her out to be in charge of the line distributing rations to the striking families. Penda's firmness of purpose proves surprising and implacable to those that try to use her reputation for promiscuity against her. Penda goes so far as to publicly slap a man who chooses to pat her behind (Ousmane 142).
It is Penda who gives voice to the women's desire to march to Dakar to support the strike. It is also Penda who shifts between cheerleader and drill instructor in order to keep the women walking and together during the journey. The novel itself draws its name in part from Penda's method of keeping the march together. The local tradition holds that the practice of counting adults and children directly brings misfortune and possibly death. Instead of counting people, the people of the region count God's bits of wood. Penda willfully violates this tradition and begins counting women directly, in order to prevent some of the marchers from surrendering to fatigue and quitting. Even though Penda is later killed in a fourth clash between the African women and the armed French forces, her example and resolve encourages the woman to complete their march to Dakar.
The Rule of the Machine
As the strike begins to take effect, the striking workers, particularly Bakayoko, come realize how industrialization and the machine have changed their lives.
While the men can recall their elders telling them of a time "when Africa was just a garden for...