The Story of an African Farm

This essay will evaluate the accuracy of the given statement, “Olive Schreiner’s novel, The Story of an African Farm, begins as a simple plaasroman but quickly abandons those roots and develops into a complex and layered bildungsroman through sustained emphasis on character development, specifically in regard to the relationships between certain characters and the various places and spaces they inhabit.”, by discussing three parts of the novel and the relevance they have to the plaasroman and bildungsroman literary genres.  It will firstly look at the farm landscape at night, how the landscape changes during the day and what facts that are brought to light with the rising of the sun. Secondly, this essay will discuss “The Hunter’s Story” as told by Waldo’s stranger and its relation to the bildungsroman genre. Lastly, it will examine Waldo’s evolution or rather how he develops as a character, from small boy to adult.

Set in the Karoo in the 1860s, Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm reads like a plaasroman. (Schreiner 2015:13 )Firstly, what is a plaasroman? A plaasroman refers to a genre of literature that focusses on rustic farm-life and the give-and-take relationship between people and the wonders of nature, idyllic and unchanging. This description is typically associated with Afrikaans people as they believe , similar to those in the plaasroman, that farms should be predominantly run by the man of the house (ideally without the aid of people of colour), hard work should be praised and everyone  has their own set or “traditional” role to play. (Barnard and Coetzee 2003: 204&210)  They also are firmly religious and typically think they are superior. Foreigners are regarded with suspicion and the Afrikaans people generally believe that the land currently being farmed will be handed down through the generations, from father to son, creating a long-lasting legacy.

One can see the influence of the plaasroman in the first pages of the novel, where the beauty of the Karoo farming landscape lit by the moonlight is described, creating a picturesque image of the surroundings; one of the elements related to the plaasroman is the importance of nature or of the land. From the prickly pears and the koppie, to the kraals and the main-house, the land is painted with moonlight, beautiful, calm and largely quiet. “The moonlight cast a kind of dreamy beauty” (Schreiner 2015:3). Yet when the sun rises… the monotony associated with the plaasroman is broken as reality of the desert-like and harsh land existing under a boiling sun is made known to the reader. “The farm by daylight was not as the farm by moonlight…showed the red earth everywhere…reflected the fierce sunlight”. (Schreiner 2015:6)Simultaneously, the reader is introduced to Tante Sannie, a Boer-woman who owns the farm, Waldo, a boy who questions God,  and Lyndall, a young girl determined to be educated; all a stark contrast to the standard plaasroman. These characters contrast the ideologies of the plaasroman as traditionally a farm ran on a patriarchal system, where god-fearing men worked and god-fearing women cooked and cleaned, they definitely did not become educated. Another deviation from the plaasroman is the fact that Em is to inherit the farm, for traditionally the ownership of the farm would fall to the closest male relation. Lyndall, Em and Waldo are all small children when they are presented as characters and they age as the novel continues, showing how they grow, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. This characteristic is more in keeping with a bildungsroman.

A bildungsroman is a literary genre that focusses on the overall development of the main character or characters, how they learn and mature from their experiences and how through this their life changes. (Esty 2007: 413)Usually a particular event is the start of the character’s desire to change or become better in some way.  Aspects of the bildungsroman can be seen in The Story of an African Farm in the scene where a stranger takes the carving that Waldo made and tells “The Hunter’s Story”. (Schreiner 2015:139-149)

This tale or story within The Story of an African Farm follows the story of a hunter who looks upon a white bird, Truth, and longs to hold her. Wisdom tells him he must leave his home valley forever and take nothing of his former life with him when he crosses the threshold. In keeping with the bildungsroman the hunter tries to leave, holding on to part of his past but is unable to move forward until he lets it go.  The hunter faces many challenges, he is tried by the “Land of Negation and Denial” (Schreiner 2015:139-149), tempted by Sensuality, tested by the mountain of “Dry facts and Realities” (Schreiner 2015:139-149) and taunted by the “Echoes of Despair”, but he over comes each one. (Like a character would in a bildungsroman) The hunter spends his whole life carving stairs out of the mountain to reach the top and hold Truth in his arms. When he is old, grey and not far from death, he carves out the last stair he is able to. From there he can see the valley. (Schreiner 2015:139-149) The beautiful land and the happy people and animals, all the things he left behind and he finally sees that the truth was right in front of him the entire time. The hunter is not angry, he is glad that he has forged the path for future generations to follow. As he draws his last breath, a feather from Truth falls down and the hunter dies holding it.

The Hunter’s story is almost a mirror of what happens to the main character/s in that of a bildungsroman. A significant event usually propels characters into action, the character leaves all that is known behind and ventures into unfamiliar territory, sometimes followed by the rejection of the original event or rejection of the current event or circumstances. And so the development of the character begins. Opportunities to sate pleasures can appear to characters in various forms, sometimes they give into temptation and sometimes not. Often at some point the character faces the reality of their situation, either that their goal is possible or impossible to reach; this is generally depends on the character’s beliefs and the people and other events surrounding the plot. Typically the character experiences feelings of hopelessness when their goal is “so close yet so far”. Eventually the character pulls through and reaches their goal or finds something they didn’t know they needed, learns an unexpected lesson or discovers the “truth”. Usually at the end of the journey the character has matures and grown in a moral or mental, emotional or spiritual way. Waldo is an example of a character that goes through a similar transformation as his character develops throughout the novel.

Waldo is born a farm boy. (Schreiner 2015:5-7)His job on the farm is to herd the sheep, he sleeps in a hut with his father away from the main-house and was raised to and still believes in God. Most of his childhood corresponds with the plaasroman genre. However, his story dramatically veers to that of a bildungsroman when Waldo rejects God, I love Jesus Christ, but I hate God”, (Schreiner 2015:12) because of his (God’s) failure to show his power and burn Waldo’s offering. A while later Waldo changes his mind, once more happy with God only, until the death of his farther whereupon he wallows in his grief, simultaneously resurrecting his spiritual anguish.  This is a turning point in Waldo’s evolution as a character; consistent with a bildungsroman.

From that point Waldo appear to develop a thirst for knowledge and ventures into the loft to discover more. Accused of stealing peaches from the loft he is whipped. (Schreiner 2015:102) Despite the intense pain of the whip lashing his back, Waldo does not make a sound, “A shudder passed through the boy” (Schreiner 2015:103); quite different for the weepy boy in the beginning of the novel. “He had been very strong…never felt pain’. (Schreiner 2015:103)Like in a bildungsroman, misery washes over Waldo and he says to the stranger he meets, “I have never done anything”. (Schreiner 2015:151)The stranger imparts a piece of wisdom to Waldo, “In the end experience will inevitably teach us that the laws for a wise and noble life have a foundation infinitely deeper than any fiat of any being, God or man, even in the groundwork of human nature.” (Schreiner 2015:152) Forging ahead, Waldo creates his own personal religion (still on the fence between God and knowledge or science) and leaves the farm to travel; perhaps to discover himself, in in a bildungsroman.

If The Story of an African Farm were a true bildungsroman, then Waldo would have used the knowledge he has accumulated from reading and somehow ended up better off than before his travels. This however does not happen, Waldo instead returns to the farm, his roots; indicative of a plaasroman. The rest of Waldo’s life-story fits neither plaasroman nor bildungsroman, but something else altogether as Waldo has never really seen the “truth” and doesn’t really learn or become a person through his experiences. He never “sees the light” as after his travels he is still spiritually conflicted, Waldo is never truly accepted in society because he has not embraced all the beliefs of society, as he would have had the novel been a pure bildungsroman.(Literary Devices 2016:1). He also still longs for Lyndall, even though he is aware of her opinions on men and marriage, and he returns to the farm in a worse condition then when he left.

One cannot deny that Waldo developed as a character (largely in a somewhat negative way) as he is not the same person he was when he was a boy, particularly in the instances where became drunk or had a violent outburst. But at the end of this life he has nothing to show for it. He was born a farm boy and yet for all his knowledge, he dies a farm boy.

In conclusion, and in accordance with the given statement, The Story of an African farm does change from a plaasroman to a bildungsroman. However, after the change, the novel doesn’t continue like a “straight-forward” bildungsroman. Instead one can say that Schreiner uses elements of both in her novel, a combination of plaasroman and bildungsroman, and doesn’t follow a particular pattern with regard to when the genre changes. There are however, instances where the plot deviates from plaasroman and bildungsroman and fits into neither genre. It therefore can be said that Schreiner uses elements from a variety of literary genres, not only the plaasroman and bildungsroman.

 

References

  • Barnard, R and Coetzee, JM 2003.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” and the South African Pastoral. Contemporary Literature .44 (2): 199-224.
  • Esty, J. 2007. The Colonial Bildungsroman: The Story of an African Farm and the Ghost of Goethe. Victorian studies, 404-430.
  • Hanskill, C.2014. Valuable Failure as a Unifying Principle in The Story of an African Farm. English Literature in Transition. 57(1): 81–98.
  • Website.2016. <http://literarydevices.net/bildungsroman/> (Accessed 9 April 2016)
  • Schreiner, O. 2015. The Story of an African Farm. 3rd Cape Town: Penguin random House SA.
  • van Vuuren, ME. 2010. Chapter Three. The truth of wounded memories’: the question of forgiveness in selected post-apartheid texts, December 2010:95-124.

The Great Gatsby

This essay will analyse F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, paying particular attention to how the narrator, Nick Carraway, positions Gatsby as a victim of circumstance, rather than the instigator of tragic events within the novel. To further support this statement the reliability of Nick Carraway’s role as the narrator will be put into question, the various paradoxes and oxymoron’s used to describe Gatsby’s character and the reason why Gatsby is so great.

Nick Carraway is the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which puts into question how reliable his retelling of the story is. He may have chosen not to reveal more personal details about himself, the other characters and the events which took place. Carraway is relaying past events to the reader, events which took place two years ago and his recollection of events therefore, may not be entirely accurate. Nick is also emotionally involved in the story which would make it difficult to be objective while recounting the events. In addition, Nick considers himself an honest person but he also lies and cheats.

While presumably in a relationship with Jordan Baker, he has an affair with a married woman who worked in the accounting department in Jersey City, while he is still in a relationship with a woman in this home town. Nick speaks about his supposed feeling for Jordan and deems her “Incurably dishonest”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 43). These events make Nick a hypocrite as he himself is dishonest and in the novel he states how he disapproats into the safety of his money. He continues to see Jordan and is flattered that he and Jordan are seen going out together which implies that, in Nick’s eyes, Jordan is the betteves of Tom’s relationship with Myrtle and of Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy. Nick knew of the affairs, Tom and Myrtle’s and Daisy and Gatsby’s, but he never says anything about it to either party. Nick also discovers that it was Tom Buchannan who told George Wilson that the yellow car belonged to Gatsby and Tom let Wilson draw the conclusion that Myrtle was Gatsby’s mistress and was therefore the person who ran her over. With this knowledge, Nick never defends Gatsby, a man he called a friend, against the media’s accusations of murder and bootlegging.

Nick never acknowledges or says outright that Gatsby is a criminal. He also never “formally” breaks up with the women in the accounting department, he feels she is of lower status himself,  instead he lets the relationship dissolve and , like Tom and Daisy, retrer candidate. A marriage between the two of them would elevate Nick’s status and make him individually wealthier so in other words… Nick is a snob. On the first page of the novel the reader learns that due to misinterpretation of his father’s advice, Nick is inclined to reserve all judgement. When Nick’s father said that not everyone has had the same advantages Nick had, Nick thought this meant that he was superior to other people; that people who weren’t from wealthy backgrounds were of little importance in the world. In the words of Peter Hays, “Nick feels himself morally superior to Tom’s infidelities, Jordan’s lies, to Wolfsheim’s and Gatsby’s criminal acts, yet he’s an accessory after the fact of murder, concealing vital evidence from the police.” (Hays, 2011. page 324).

In the first chapter Nick identifies Gatsby as a victim of circumstance. “When I came back from the East… short-winded elations of men”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. pages 1 & 2). Nick says “Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction – Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.” He has quite plainly said that he despised everything Gatsby stood for and yet he was exempt. This suggests to the reader that something awful happened to Gatsby, that perhaps Nick is forgiving Gatsby out of guilt. Without even being introduced to Gatsby as a character, the reader already feels sorry for him. Nick then speaks about what “what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust…dreams”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 2). The uses of these words positions Gatsby as a victim implying that he was hunted, that some dark force followed him and was his downfall. As said by Nick, Gatsby turned out alright in the end. He speaks about Gatsby’s uniqueness and how he is unlikely to ever meet another person who possessed Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift of hope” and “romantic readiness”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 2). In these words Nick shares the depth of his loss with the reader, creating a welling sadness that the reader can only draw one conclusion from; Gatsby is a victim of circumstance.

Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby there is evidence that Nick positions Gatsby as the victim of circumstance rather than the instigator of tragic events that take place. For example, it has been expressed numerous times by various characters that Daisy, in particular her voice, possessed a kind of “magic”. Nick goes to see Tom and Daisy, “Two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.”(Fitzgerald, 2008. page 5). And upon seeing Daisy says that she was “looking up into my face, promising that there was no one else in the world she wanted to see more.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 7). Nick also mentions Daisy’s voice was unique and spectacular saying that “It was a kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 7). He also said it held a “singing compulsion” that men who cared about her had difficulties forgetting it. Nick feels flustered and has the urge to apologise for everything that he does as well greatly exaggerating how much the people in Chicago miss Daisy yet he hasn’t been in Daisy’s presence for any great length of time.

In 1917, when Daisy was eighteen, Nick expresses, through Jordan’s recollection that Gatsby and Daisy’s romantic relationship lasted six months. Jordan also says how many young officers called, demanding the honour of having Daisy to themselves for the evening or if not for the evening than just for an hour. By this evidence the reader is lead to believe that Daisy could have or would have chosen any officer that took her fancy and, by chance, she chose Gatsby. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 56). After Gatsby left, Jordan says Daisy “didn’t play around with soldiers any more“, within two months of Gatsby leaving had several other relationships, even an engagement, which would suggest that Daisy never actually loved Gatsby and she was just toying with his emotions. The way Nick describes these events, his awe of Daisy upon seeing her and Gatsby and Daisy’s first courtship, leads the reader to believe that he is justifying Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy by saying that she emotionally seduced him; he was a victim of circumstance.

There are various sides to Gatsby that we see throughout the novel and according to critic, Peter Hays, Gatsby’s character in itself is a paradox. “One prominent instance of doubleness… phrases it, “an elegant…roughneck” ”. (Hays, 2011. pages 318 & 319).He is described as an “elegant roughneck”. Based on this, Hays’s assessment of Gatsby and the discoveries made about him in the novel it can be surmised that there are three different sides to Gatsby. There is Jay Gatsby- the secretive criminal-bootlegger who is ruthless, dirty and corrupt in his business dealings and doesn’t lose a night’s sleep over threatening people while making large quantities of money through illegal means.

The other Jay Gatsby is one that Daisy and the public see. They see a suave, charming and handsome young man who is incredibly wealthy and lives a lavish lifestyle. This Gatsby appears relaxed and at ease all the time and acts like everything is effortless. He has a great social network; he knows many people in low and high places, and these people see fit to grant him favours which appear to get him out of unfavourable situations. For example, Gatsby is about to pulled over by a police officer for speeding but proceeds to show the officer a white card which results in Nick and Gatsby being allowed to continue speedily on their way. When Nick made inquiries Gatsby just said that he was able to do the commissioner a favour. However, Gatsby’s  sometimes slips.

According to Nick the genuine Gatsby is James Gatz, he is kind, ambitious, at the same time quite shy and doesn’t have much to talk about besides Daisy or rather he doesn’t know how to have a normal conversation with people. This is prominent when Nick invites Daisy to tea. Gatsby is restless and anxious and wants to call the whole occasion off. When Daisy does arrive Gatsby leaves because he is embarrassed and Nick says Gatsby is behaving like a little boy. The way Nick, the narrator, tells the story suggests that he knew Gatsby quite well, all three sides of him, and still considered him a friend.

As to why Gatsby is so great, Gatsby possessed one quality or characteristic that no other character in the novel had; Gatsby had hope. Nothing and no one could sway Gatsby to give up what he believed. He believed in hard work, love and romance. Gatsby felt that anything was possible if you had hope and worked hard; believed he could repeat the past. His dream of marrying Daisy and living happily ever was “incorruptible” and that was his downfall. In is ironic that Gatsby turned to corruption to achieve his “incorruptible” dream. (Hays, 2011.page 320).He did everything wrong for the right reasons; his romantic dream floated on a cloud of money stained with blood, sweat and grime.

“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder… ceaselessly into the past.” (Fitzgerald, 2008.page 134). After Gatsby dies, Nick looks out to the dock and the green light which had been Gatsby’s obsession for many years. He says that Gatsby thought his dream was so close he could almost grab it but what he didn’t know was that over those five years, his dream actually became further and further out of reach, until  it was all behind him. His past unrepeatable. His unobtainable “Once upon a time”.

“So we beat… into the past.” (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 134).What Nick could possibly mean by saying this is that people in general are stubborn; they will fight and hope, no matter the odds, and never give up, in order to reach their dreams.

Gatsby’s greatest virtues qualities turned out to be his greatest flaws. Gatsby fiercely believed in hope and his American dream, and it just so happened that his American dream was Daisy. Gatsby’s American dream is a paradox in itself as no matter what he did, he would have never ended up with Daisy.

In conclusion, Nick’s reliability as a narrator is shaky at best as he is dishonest, he was personally involved and he is a snob. However, Nick does say that at thirty he is five years too old to lie to himself. It can therefore be said that Nick positioned Gatsby as a victim of circumstance and painted him such that the reader would agree with Nick when he said that Gatsby was “Worth the whole damn bunch put together”. (Fitzgerald, 2008. page 114).

REFERENCES

  • BBC Bitesize. 2014. The Great Gatsby. [Available <http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/english/great_gatsby theme/revision/3/ >] .Accessed: 25 August 2015.
  • Fitzgerald, F.S. 2008. The Great Gatsby. Cape Town: Oxford University Press South Africa.
  • Hays, P.L. 2011. Oxymoron in The Great Gatsby. Papers on Languages &Literature 47 (3), pp. 318-325.

 

Fun in the Sun

Oh I do like to live beside the seaside. Oh I do like live beside the sea. Oh I do like stroll along the prom, prom, prom. Beside the seaside. Beside the sea. Summer and sunshine mean it’s time to head to the beach. Armed with a Peugeot 406 stuffed with all the necessary beach “artillery”, it’s time to go. Lock and load.

The beach looked like a surf shop, a towel store and an umbrella factory had exploded and everything had just happened to land in the same place. It was as if every family in the area had decided “We’re all going on a summer holiday.” And trust me when I say that trying to find a place to sit is like trying to find a four-leafed clover in a field of shamrocks or a polar bear in a snowstorm.  Eventually after navigating the masses and finding a place to make ourselves comfortable, we set up “camp”. Lying on a colourful towel, spread on the warm brown sand, beneath a tall white umbrella in my itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini, I sighed in contentment. The nosy parker that I am, I examined my surroundings under the guise of my flowered hat and sunglasses. (Low whistle) Wow, some people really do go to town when they come to the beach. Beach tents, deck chairs and loungers. Whatever happened to ordinary towels? And judging by the large amount of inflatable rafts and paddles, good-old bucket-and-spades went out of fashion ages ago.

No…Wait… There was a child using a bucket and spade! I could see a sandcastle as I craned my neck, appearing to stretch so I could get a better view. I giggled at the site I found. The child was diligently using a bucket and spade to make a sandcastle… which was being built on the foundation of another person.

A way down the beach near the walk way, I could see a number of sand sculptures where being built. A rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo, and a crocodile all sculpted using different kinds of sand and things like shells for teeth. Once more using my nosey parker skills I craned my neck to see a couple holding hands and waiting as they had their names sculpted in the sand. Awww, cute!  Reminded me a bit of one of the songs from Grease “Summer lovin’, had me a blast, summer lovin’ happened so fast.”

Lunch came and went, as did the ice-cream guy with his Ola ice-cream cart, and soon it was time to head home. The sun was just starting to set. As the last rays of light kiss the water and the sand, it looked like I was walking on sunshine, woah, woah, I was walking on sunshine and don’t it feel good.

Sure, it’s noisy, a bit difficult to move around but it is part of the place I call my home. In 30 or 40 years’ time I doubt it will have changed and I hope when I’m old, grey and wrinkled, it will still bring me the same happiness. I hope I’ll still be able to say “I can still recall our last summer. I still see it all, our last summer. Walks along the sand, laughing in the rain, our last summer memories that remain.”

Hope

Cold
Alone
Frozen in Ice
Darkness envelopes
Trapped due to vice

Small
Insignificant
Naught but a seed
Wait for spring young one
You soon will be freed

Warmth
Growth
Now a sapling or sprout
Strong enough to forge ahead
As that is what Spring is all about

The Red Brick House with the Green Front Door

My grandfather once told me the story of
the Red brick house with the green front door.
He said it was next to number 3 and opposite number 4.

He first saw the house
when he was 10  in 1962.
He said the house looked pretty.
It was shiny. It was new.

The best house in the street, at two stories high.
It was different and unique he said fondly with a sigh.

He said as the years passed,
the house was filled with fun and laughter,
the big family happy.
Although the garden could have used some work,
as it was a little bit tatty.

The family got smaller, then bigger
Because of a lady named Jane.
And the Red brick house with the green front door,
had a happy family living in it once more.

The places around the house were bulldozed and rebuilt with glass.
Supposedly the definition of some higher class

My grandfather said that the house still stands today,
and he hopes, with all his heart, it won’t go away.
Even though it might be called shabby, not as shiny or new,
He said it was a house filled with love and joy
That would make dreams come true.

I thanked my grandfather for the story and got up to go.
As I left, I turned around and waved goodbye.
My grandfather waved back,
As he lent against the wall
of the Red brick house with the green front door.