The mood at the beginning of this great novel is thoroughly depressing. Margaret is a Masarwa (also called a Bushman) which means she is considered less than nothing in her society. These people are so insignificant in society that when Margaret's mother dies, the same day as she gives birth, her body lies on the side of the road until a white missionary named Margaret Cadmore (after whom our protagonist will later be named) makes arrangements for the body to be buried and takes the young orphan in.
The mood of sadness becomes interspersed with hope here because while little Margaret thrives on learning and does well at school, she is mocked, rejected, and even spat on by her classmates at school. She does so well academically, however, that she is later able to get a teaching job in Dilepe.
When she arrives in Dilepe, Maru finds that, despite refusing to renounce her Masarwa heritage, she is the object of desire of two men, both of whom abandon their amorous tendencies to pursue her. The mood in this latter part of the book, when people tend to admire Maru rather than ridicule her, is much lighter than the tone at the start of the story. Through her thirst for knowledge, Maru has undoubtedly made a better life for herself, and this is reflected in the mood of the various parts of the book.