A Dry White Season

by André Brink

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What are some symbols in the novel A Dry White Season?

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The author, André Brink, uses several symbols in the novel. They include paper and documents for knowledge, the school for education and political awareness, as well as a final image of Ben’s life through the eyes of one of his students.

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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.

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The title itself, A Dry White Season, is symbolic of the general state of apathy that Brink found pervasive in apartheid South Africa. It is against this generalized lack of concern for the dramatic repression of freedom that routinely takes place in the country that Ben Du Toit progressively reacts. The anonymous narrator who reconstructs Ben's life for the readers is implicated into this fight against apathy as are the readers themselves. The dry white season also refers to a period of both material and ideological losses, a period in which Ben has to reconstruct his own identity. The township of Soweto is another important symbol in the novel as it comes to represent and embody black resistance against apartheid. It is contrasted with the comfortable suburban life led by Ben before his involvement in the quest for truth in the Ngubenes' murders.

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