Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Dance in the Sun was written toward the beginning of South Africa’s attempt to erect eternal walls of separation between the races. The social conditions which apartheid made inevitable and the natural environment of the Karroo make for a setting that is appropriate for Dan Jacobson’s story. The landscape is dry and sterile, yet hauntingly beautiful, and its wide vistas contrast with the narrow minds of its inhabitants. The Fletcher house is big, grand in a decadent way, filled with evidence of a once-proud past, but more like a prison than a home. Fletcher is mad in his paranoiac racism, and his demands that his two guests stay to help him protect “civilization” are absurd because all he really means is that he wants them to protect him from a punishment which at least unconsciously he knows he deserves.

A Dance in the Sun reveals allegorical elements. If the two boys represent a hopeful future for South Africa, Fletcher, his wife, and Ignatius Louw represent the country’s troubled present (c. 1955). Basically, Fletcher fears the loss of his estate—which he has only achieved by marriage—and he equates the status quo with “white civilization.” He also equates both with himself to protect himself from his brother-in-law and from his own conscience. Mrs. Fletcher, the Afrikaner allied to the British South African, is out of touch with the land for which her father risked everything and out of touch with the best in the Boer tradition generally. All she cares about is her position in a society in which she would be condemned if her brother’s tainted past were known. Nasie himself, the one person in her family who knows the absurdity of the racial laws which he has violated, is too weak to resist them and too morally bankrupt to do anything to the Fletchers except to break up their furniture. Meanwhile, the Africans go on, enduring injustice, at home in the natural environment from which they have been dispossessed, waiting for a just future which may not come, making the only accommodation with the system that is possible for them.