Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

Morris Pietersen

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Morris Pietersen, a “Colored” (mixed race) male of unspecified age who lives with his brother, Zachariah. One of Morris’ most important characteristics is the fact that, in contrast to Zachariah, he has light skin, light enough so that he has been able to pass for white. As a result, Morris seems to feel guilty regarding his dark-skinned brother, needing to prove to himself and Zachariah that they do indeed have a “blood knot” and that they are, in fact, tied as brothers in a valued, however troubled, relationship. An essential aspect of Morris’ personality is that he seems driven to become closer than he has been to Zachariah. This desire is shown, in part, by Morris taking a servile position to his brother. For example, it is the brother with near-white skin who assumes the domestic chores in the house, such as cooking and preparing Zachariah’s foot baths, among other things. Morris dreams that the two of them will move someday to a deserted land to escape other negative aspects of society. A main part of his outlook on existence is improving his relationship with his brother. His desire to be close to Zachariah is sometimes undercut by his absorption in South Africa’s racialism. A central part of the plot, for example, is Morris’ exhibition of a latent dislike of blacks, as is shown when the two brothers play a game in which Morris pretends to be white, while Zachariah acts as a subservient black man. Morris’ inner feelings are shown by the fact that although he is at first unable to enact the role of a white man, he soon is so carried away by the role-playing that he wishes to be abusive to Zachariah, wanting to poke him with an umbrella. Morris, therefore, shows both his inner conflict as well as the tension that lurks below the surface of the two brothers’ relationship.

Zachariah Pietersen

Zachariah Pietersen, a mixed-race male of unspecified age. In contrast to Morris, who does the domestic work at home, Zachariah works at a park—ironically, keeping blacks from entering. One of his most important characteristics is his dark skin. Unlike Morris, Zachariah has always had to live a life subjected to the laws pertaining to “Coloreds”; he, unlike Morris, is unable to “pass” for white. It is not surprising, therefore, that he is the more reality-bound of the brothers, having little interest in Morris’ illusion of a new life in a deserted land. His realistic nature is emphasized even as he and his brother play games of imagination; for example, he tells Morris how to “act white” as the brothers pretend that Morris is a white man and that Zachariah is a black in a submissive role. Another important element is that Zachariah is conflicted in his feelings toward his brother. He recalls bitterly that their mother favored the light-skinned Morris. Zachariah also feels that Morris, who at times seems to push his illusions and opinions on him, is a burdensome brother. Resentment and jealousy, therefore, lurk beneath Zachariah’s feelings toward his brother.

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