When was "The Waste Land" by Alan Paton written and what was it about?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Wasteland" was published as part of Alan Paton's collection "Tales from a Troubled Land."  This collection was published in 1961.

In this very short story, a man gets off a bus and is mugged by a group of young men.  He manages to hit one of them over the head with a large stick.  He then hides under a truck.

The rest of the gang come panting up soon afterward.  From their conversation, it soon becomes clear that the person the mugging victim hit over the head was his own son, Freddy.  Freddy is dead, and his friends take his body and throw it in under the truck, next to his father.


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poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Alan Paton's short story "The Waste Land" was published in 1961 as a part of Paton's larger collection, Tales from a Troubled Land.

"The Waste Land" is set in South Africa during the apartheid, which serves as the titular land of ruin and gruesome violence. In the story, a man disembarks from a bus only to find himself being chased by a gang of young thieves. The man flees, scared for his life and terrified at the thought that his death could make his wife a widow and leave his children fatherless. While trapped in a junkyard, the man strikes one of the gang members on the head with a stick; this assailant ends up being the man's own son, Freddy, who dies from the blow and whose body is abandoned by the gang. Realizing what he has done, the man cries out in anguish, "People, arise! The world is dead." 

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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"The Waste Land," published in 1961, is about a man who faces a gang of young men when he leaves a bus with his pay in hand. The man immediately fears for his family and thinks, "His wife could be made a widow, his children made fatherless." He escapes to a wasteland of broken-down cars, and he fears death. While running away from his attackers, he faces one of them with a stick and brings it down upon his attacker's head. He then hides under a truck and hears one of the men address his own son, Freddy, to tell him that his father has gotten away. The other men place the dead body of his son next to him, as the protagonist realizes that he inadvertently killed his own son. Rather than his son being fatherless, he is without a son. He then curses the world and refers to it as a "wasteland."

This story was written during apartheid, or the system or rigid racial segregation in South Africa. The deeper meaning of the story is the way in which this type of  brutality destroys the society so that it has become a wasteland. This society has become so devastated that a son attempts to rob his own father and the normal ties of family love are forever shattered.


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