Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Karroo. Arid, dusty plateau of the southwestern part of what is now the Republic of South Africa and the interior of what was the British Cape Colony during the period in which the novel is set. Most of the action takes place on the plains of the Karroo, a region at once beautiful and oppressive. The blazing summer sun, which makes the earth itself cry for water, oppresses both man and beast, adding to the sense of powerlessness felt by the child characters who are the focus of the story. On the other hand, at night the moon and the stars lend a touch of beauty to the land; and at the end, after seasonal rains again turn the land green, even the sun seems benign, and the landscape becomes lovely—so lovely that Waldo almost melts into it. However, the overall effect of the landscape is that of something oppressively hot and barren, another source of suffering in a novel of suffering. Even Waldo’s union with the landscape at the end is achieved only through his death.


Farm. Ostrich and sheep ranch on the Karroo that gives the novel its title. There, Waldo, Lyndall, and Em live under the control of the Boer farm woman Tant’ Sannie. The farm is a simple place, with a few plain buildings and corrals (kraals) for animals. It is not a place of prosperity; rafters in its buildings are worm-eaten, and the roof and the bricks of its main house are crumbling, contributing to the sense of gloom that pervades the novel. The farm also projects a feeling of claustrophobia. When Tant’ Sannie’s stepdaughter, Lyndall, returns from school, she says that she feels suffocated in the farmhouse—a feeling that perhaps symbolizes the way society suffocates her desires because she is a woman.

A room at the top of the farmhouse contains provisions, books, and women’s dresses. It is a place where characters learn things. When Waldo, the son of the farm’s German overseer, goes there, he discovers books that promise...

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The Story of an African Farm Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Berkman, Joyce Avrech. The Healing Imagination of Olive Schreiner: Beyond South African Colonialism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Stresses Schreiner’s humanistic and progressive sociological views and discusses how they are represented in her fiction.

Chrisman, Laura. “Empire, Race, and Feminism at the fin de siècle: The Works of George Egerton and Olive Schreiner.” In Cultural Politics at the fin de siècle, edited by Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Examines Schreiner’s work in the light of the new woman movement of the 1890’s and its contribution concerning gender and imperialism.

First, Ruth, with Ann Scott. Olive Schreiner. London: André Deutsch, 1980. Authoritative chronicle of Schreiner’s life and times, co-written by an African National Congress activist, explores the relationship of Schreiner’s life to the history of her troubled nation.

Monsman, Gerald. Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991. Examines Schreiner’s art in aesthetic terms, stressing her sensitivity to nature and her philosophical ambitions. Especially useful for interpreting Waldo’s aesthetic evolution and the development of Lyndall’s character.

Van Wyk Smith, Malvern, and Don MacLennan, eds. Olive Schreiner and After: Essays on Southern African Literature in Honour of Guy Butler. Cape Town, South Africa: D. Philip, 1983. Situates Schreiner in the tradition of white South African writing in English that she was crucial in founding.