To what extent can The Heart of the Country be regarded as criticism of the patiarchal system and colonization? (Who is coloniszer and who is colonized ? How can we explain Magda's revolt against...

To what extent can The Heart of the Country be regarded as criticism of the patiarchal system and colonization? (Who is coloniszer and who is colonized ? How can we explain Magda's revolt against the patriarchal system when at the same time she is depedennt on patriarchal power ? What is attitude of Magda towards colonization?)

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This novel can be regarded as a critique of both patriarchy and colonialism to a fairly significant extent. Patriarchy and colonialism are similar systems inasmuch as they both involve the oppression of one group by another. Patriarchy refers to the absolute control wielded by the senior male member of a family over other members, especially women. Colonialism is a wider social and political phenomenon whereby the people of one country take over and dominate another, usually by invading their land and controlling its resources.

Both of these systems are implicit in the situation of this novel, where the main character and narrator, Magda, is a lonely single white woman living on a remote South African farm with her father and servants. It is true that as a narrator she is, to put it mildly, highly unreliable, and this problematizes the entire novel, but from what we can gather it seems she has been driven more or less over the edge by her isolation both physically and socially. The patriarchal and colonialist outlook of her time and place prevents her from making normal, easy connections with the only people around her. Her father appears stern and cold to the last degree and barely even speaks to her. He appears to regard her as an inferior being, not just because she is a woman but also because she is unmarried and childless. In the classic patriarchal system a woman's chief value lies in her ability to produce children to carry on the family line. Magda has signally failed to do this and as a result has no importance in the eyes of her father. 

Similarly, Magda's relationship with the black servants is vitiated by the colonial and racial divide between them. They cannot meet on terms of equality; as the daughter of the white owner of the farm, Magda can command the servants but cannot make friends with them, while they, on their side, have to behave in a submissive, servile manner. The novel thus shows the detrimental effect of colonization upon both colonizer and colonized: they feel acutely uncomfortable with one another.

Both patriarchy and colonialism, then, are seen to have had an extremely unwholesome effect on Magda, the main character of the novel. Her only refuge, it seems, is in her lonely and often very violent fantasies when she imagines killing her father, for instance, and thus destroying the patriarchal system which has oppressed her for so long. She also imagines entering into a liaison with the servant Hendrik. She even goes so far as to imagine him raping her, thus wholly overturning the traditional power relations between colonizer and colonized. However - insofar as we can distinguish between Magda's fantasies and the reality of her situation - it seems that Magda simply remains on the farm, lonely as ever, while her father gradually descends into senility. His mental deterioration (if it does actually occur) represents the final dwindling of his patriarchal power, but it has come far too late for Magda.

In fact, we might say in the end that Magda's real refuge is not in imagining the overthrow of the social and familial systems which blight her life, but simply in the consciousness of her own existence entirely independent of all forms of external reality, as seen in the following quote:

But I have another sense of myself, glimmering tentatively somewhere in my inner darkness: myself as a sheath, as a matrix, as protectrix of a vacant inner space.

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In the Heart of the Country

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