Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mehring’s world is an introspective one. Divorced from wife, detached from son, he lives within himself. He is involved with the outside world, enjoying financial and social success, yet no one truly knows him. Mehring, above all, seeks to keep his distance from those near to him.

Mehring is also at odds with those who are near to him: with his mistress, who dreams of using Mehring’s money to reshape society, and with Jacobus, who maintains the precious farm Mehring enjoys only on weekends. Mehring is committed to preserving his way of life, not least of all, perhaps, because he sees no alternative. Mehring, the conservationist, is a symbol of the fortress mentality of South African white society.

Having chosen to maintain his distance emotionally from the people around him, Mehring depends more and more on taking his pleasure wherever he can find it. Indeed, he is one of life’s takers, profiting not only from the sale of pig iron but also from the sexual favors of the women he seduces. He has no interest in altering a world, whatever its iniquities, that he accepted long ago on its own terms. Revolutionary change is not so much anathema to him as it is pointless.

In the end, it is the farm which takes on meaning for Mehring. It is satisfying to walk the fields and feel the earth under one’s feet. The fact remains, however, that Mehring is only a weekend visitor. He may own the land, but others live there and work it.