The narrator of A Dry White Season picks up the pieces that Ben has left after his death. Although the narrator, Ben’s long-time friend, initially feels burdened by his charge to tell Ben’s story, he realizes that the legacy was a kind of gift and that the story truly matters.
Two important symbols in the novel are papers and documents. The narrator must literally sort through the many pages of documents that were left behind. The papers stand for the story itself. Another theme is education and knowledge, which are symbolized by the school where Ben and Gordon work and by Ben’s profession of teacher. Although it is Ben’s job to impart knowledge to children every day and he believes himself to be politically astute, he realizes that he has been operating in dismal ignorance his entire life. Gordon, who is a cleaner at the school, possesses far greater knowledge of society than Ben. This knowledge extends to the fact that his son will not likely survive the injustices of the nation’s apartheid system. The men’s roles are reversed as Gordon becomes a teacher to Ben, educating him about the true nature of oppression.