Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The very title of the novel suggests its principal theme: the historical inextricability of blacks and whites in South Africa. The “chain of voices” in the novel links the interior lives of blacks and whites and the exterior lives of both in the cultural circumstances, but two distinct viewpoints emerge toward the land itself: The Boers see themselves as conquerors of a wild frontier—and all the people found there—with a divine mandate for establishing Christian civilization; the Khoikhoin and the slaves, from various parts of South Africa, see themselves as descendants from the land that symbolizes freedom, strength, and endurance. Deprived of just law and human status under an alien law, the blacks see the resistance of the land to Boer cultivation as representative of their own struggle against slavery. The stones, drought, and storms seem to play out the mythic resistance to tyranny.

The colonial intent to subjugate the land leads to the subjugation of not only the blacks but also of the Boer women themselves. In the rigid patriarchal interpretation of the Bible that informs the van der Merwe philosophy, women are perceived as objects, fields from which sons should be born. That objectification of land, women, and blacks fosters the subsequent psychological turmoil within each of the Boer characters. However much each of them may wish to change, each of them is hindered with the ironies of religion and violence: In order to “save” the...

(The entire section is 448 words.)