Morality and Beauty

Atlantic City Carnival Beauty Pageant, 1922 (public domain).
Atlantic City Carnival Beauty Pageant, 1922 (public domain).

Detectives Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi

The tiny white van.
The tiny white van.

Traditions Flanked by Cupidity

Beauty contests can become ghoulish when they are mixed with politics, cupidity, and intrigue in an old fashioned town struggling to emerge into a more modern culture. Once Bechuanaland, the free nation has become Botswana.

Garabone, Botawana was a traditionalist community under British protection and their first beloved president, Seretse Khama (years 1966 - 1980). The portrait of Seretse Khama hung in a place of prominence in many of the homes in town. After his long term in office, his successor was Ketumile Masire, who was elected and served from 1980 - 1997. It is during these years that the story of Morality for Beautiful Girls takes place, specially in the 1980s before the Internet and cell phones were known. It is also the time before HIV was discovered and known to produce the full blown AIDS that affects over 37% of the people, as of 2004 according to CIA documents. Independent businesses began to spring up and the proprietors grasped marketing and sales as a necessary priority. However, some businesses owners can go too far.

IN the book to be discussed, Botswana in South Africa is in the 1980s transition after release from English rule. As the Union Jack came down and the first President took office, capitalism and modern youth took over a share of the Botswana culture.

A conflict between the traditional mores and the modern lack of interactional structure produces many story lines and points to ponder. The country is named for its majority people, the Tswana, the term Batswana referring to residents, no matter their ethnicity - city or bush folk. And no matter their ethnicity, they are all affected by the economy in a new nation and by modern business upsurge.

To be traditional, one has good manners.

To be modern, it seems, is to have no manners.

Beautiful Traditional Lands of Southern Africa

Onkovango Delta in Botswana.
Onkovango Delta in Botswana.
Help is often needed for the tiny white van.
Help is often needed for the tiny white van.

The Puzzle of Gender

Morality for Beautiful Girls

By Alexander McCall Smith; Anchor Books, A Division of Random House, published 2001


From the beginning of this third installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the characters of the first two novels seem to have become real.

Gender roles come clearly into question, since Mma Precious Ramotswe is the CEO of the only private investigation firm in the country. She has decided that this is fine and others in the town come to feel the same way. Traditional manners are maintained in the business, however, and all activities come to a solid halt when clients offer anything less. Some things are not meant to pass away.

A young bright girl in a wheelchair becomes interested in auto mechanics. This is certainly a puzzle to the community and Tlokweng Speedy Motors, until the excellent Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Proprietor, asks himself, “Why not?” Since she shows the aptitude and interest, this may be the way meant for her to proceed in life, so he will help her.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is so busy that he suffers mental exhaustion and needs help. Mma Makutsi, the Assistant Detective at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, takes on the management of Tlokweng Speedy Motors as well, while he recovers. A woman manager with big glasses is a fearsome idea at first to the male auto mechanic apprentices, but they are persuaded by her ability to use a detective’s insights to find motor problems. Mma Makutsi is superbly organized and the shop becomes a buzzing business full of joy in hard work and happy customers.

Men must not be modern bullies, but must maintain traditional caring attitudes in the modern Botswana. If Mma Ramotswe cannot persuade them to behave traditionally, then the results of her detective work will persuade them with a harder lesson, provided with a gentle word for herself.

Men must also not allow themselves to be bullied. A fine chef on an estate does not want to be a chef, but his bosses will not hear his words and force him to maintain his unhappiness and their meal times. Of course, his cooking quality declines significantly – Not only is he unhappy, but he is also angry. Angry food does not digest well.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Photos public domain.
Photos public domain.
Photos public domain.

Morality and Beauty In Modern Times

Modern times are becoming too modern for the citizens of Botswana.

A big, important Government Man approaches Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi to investigate some odd occurrences at his parents’ home, People are becoming ill and he thinks that his sister-in-law is trying to poison his brother. This is a big modern headache for the Government Man, giving him literal and figurative headaches. In fact, it gives Mma Ramotswe a headache as well.

Another modern occurrence is Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s brush with exhaustion and depression. Such never used to occur when one’s apprentices of yesteryear were traditional – mannerly and hard working. At age 45 or so, the excellent Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni feels like 100.

A modern mystery befalls the local orphanage when a safari in Botswana finds a young naked boy that growls and smells like lions. Mma Ramotswe and M.r J.L.B. Matekoni must try to determine what to do about him.

Beauty or the Fake?

Most modern, indeed, is the Case of the Beauty Contest of Lovely Fakers. The beauty pageant host asks Mma Makutsi to come up with some sort of interrogation for the contestants in order to determine which of the finalists is truly pure of heart --

Being traditional, Mma Makutsi can already tell from the insolent manner in which some of them greet her. However, she applies her questions straightaway with effective results from the first finalist.

Always efficient, she discovers that her older auto apprentice is useful – he knows many of the finalists and can tell her all about them. They are good time girls, party girls, even bad girls. All but one, perhaps – he does not even know her.

How extraordinary that some beauty competition contestants are lovely on the outside, but look just like the creatures in the photo at the head of this article!

Morality for Beautiful Girls brings the reader to a further appreciation for Botswana and her people and a desire to read more of the series

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Comments 7 comments

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Hi Patty: I've never read any of his books. I may have to try one. I do enjoy a good culture/history setting with some fiction on top.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Smith's understanding of the country has led me read more about the country in other records and literature as well, and also about Nigeria, where I have friends. I'm going to look at his others series, more about UK I think.

Thanks for visiting!


mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 7 years ago

Certainly not a part of the world I know much about. Probably a book I would enjoy. Interesting!


accofranco profile image

accofranco 7 years ago from L Island

what i like most is your pictures, the girls are so scary. very nice hub, keep it up and one more?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Hi accofranco - I will do each one in the series as I read it.

What part of Nigeria are you located? I have friends in that nation.

Mulberry1 - They series is very good, imo. Perhaps you will like it.


The Good Cook profile image

The Good Cook 7 years ago

Interesting hub -- but I don't know how you find the time to read. Amazing!


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 6 years ago from Texas

I love all of these books! :)

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