The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

By allowing some twenty characters to speak from their point of view without any reflective narration between the characters and the reader, Brink permits his characters to demonstrate their own dignity and strength as well as to condemn themselves for their own prejudiced and rigid ideas and actions. Piet is the quintessential patriarch; while he rules his wife, family and slaves with his “State Bible” in one hand and his gun in the other, he is also deeply religious, believing himself to be fulfilling God’s will. Alida, although remaining religious, becomes increasingly bitter and nearly numb to all that happens around her. Barend, fearing most that he will disappoint his father, becomes harsh and cruel as he senses that he cannot prevent the inevitable changes that will come with British colonization. Hester, little more than chattel herself, suffers quietly in order to endure until she has the opportunity to choose freely the sexual act which consummates her freedom.

Galant and Nicolaas, however, offer the most intimate examination of the characters’ conflicts and inextricable relationships. They are bound by childhood love and sundered by the experience of slavery. Each in turn attempts to accept the “ordained” roles of master and slave, fails to find freedom and dignity in those roles, provokes the other to greater acts of violence, and, finally, condemns the other to death. Galant knows that murdering Nicolaas will not lead to freedom...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Piet van der Merwe

Piet van der Merwe (peet fahn derh MEHR-vah), an Afrikaaner farmer and patriarch. Once a strong and forceful man, the aged Piet has become helpless from a stroke. Because the novel is composed solely of monologues by the characters, Piet himself records his part in the events that surround the slave uprising, traces the course of his life to the uprising and his stroke, and reveals his relationships with the other characters. He emerges as a God-fearing, British-hating, racist, self-righteous, and often cruel man who unintentionally destroys his family as he seeks to carry out what he believes to be the will of God. In some ways, he is a stereotypical Afrikaaner of the era.

Alida van der Merwe

Alida van der Merwe (ah-LEE-dah), Piet’s wife. Aging and worn from her hard life as a farmer’s wife on the South African veld, Alida recounts the past years with bitterness: her youth as a beautiful young woman in Cape Town, her stormy marriage, the years of childbirth and hard work, and the disappointments and disillusionment. She has attained a sort of peace, having become reconciled to the destructive force unleashed by her husband and even to her own death, for which she longs.

Ma Rose

Ma Rose, an elderly native woman. She is closely connected to the van der Merwe family as servant, mistress to Piet, and nurse to...

(The entire section is 597 words.)