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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

The Story of an African Farm is a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, by Olive Schreiner. Considered one of the first feminist novels, Schreiner published it under the pen name Ralph Iron to evade criticism or dismissal on the basis of her gender. The novel is set on a South African farm in the mid-nineteenth-century and is split into three sections. The first details the childhoods of its three protagonists, Waldo, Lyndall, and Em. Waldo internalizes a fanatic Christian upbringing. Lyndall is a skeptic and freethinker, questioning the gender norms and behavioral constraints imposed by the adults around her as well as their social framework. Em, unlike the other two, seems mainly to absorb and repeat the ideas of authority figures.

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The second section centers around Waldo's increasing disillusionment with the religious dogma he has been allied to all his life. It is structured in non-chronological order and stresses the thematic piling-up of experiences that lead to his atheism. As he questions his religion, he grows apart from his father, a farmer named Otto, who introduced him to Christianity.

The third section takes place when the protagonists are adults. Waldo and Lyndall finally take their own paths from the farm and move to the Natal and Transvaal areas, with several stops around the way. Lyndall returns to the farm, falls ill, and dies under the stars while fixated on her reflection in a mirror. Waldo arrives some months later and begins composing a letter to Lyndall, whereupon Em informs him that she is dead. Waldo lives at the farm again and dies peacefully gazing out at the expanse of plains reflecting on the infinite freedom of time.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1479

Shortly before the Englishman dies, he marries Tant’ Sannie, so that there will be someone to take care of his farm and his motherless daughter, Lyndall. Tant’ Sannie, a heavy, slow, and simple Boer woman, takes over the farm and the care of Lyndall and her cousin, Em. Most of the hard work is done by an old German, who lives with his young son in a small house nearby. The boy, Waldo, watches over the sheep and helps his father take charge of the black natives who do the heaviest work.

The farm lies in a dreary flat plain of red sand sparsely dotted with pale bushes. The sun always glitters in a blinding way on the zinc roofs of the buildings and on the stone walls of the enclosures for the animals. Life is monotonous and deadly. Tant’ Sannie sits in the farmhouse drinking coffee; the children play in a halfhearted way; young Waldo does his chores; and the German goes about seeing that things are as they should be.

Tant’ Sannie is asked by the Englishman to see that the two girls are educated, but she, believing only in the Bible, pays no attention to their demands for books. The two girls and Waldo find some old histories and study them when they can. Lyndall learns rapidly, for she is a quick, serious girl, fascinated especially by the story of Napoleon. Em is more quiet and reserved. Waldo is the strangest of the three. His father is deeply devout, with an innocent faith in the goodness of man and the mercy of God. He fills the boy’s head with frightening and overpowering ideas.

One day a visitor comes to the farm and asks for a night’s lodging. He introduces himself as Bonaparte Blenkins. Tant’ Sannie will have nothing to do with him, because he is English-speaking. The old German intercedes for the visitor, however, and finally wins Tant’ Sannie’s grudging permission for him to spend the night. The German cannot bear to pass up an opportunity to practice Christian charity.

Blenkins soon wins the German over completely with his fantastic tales of adventure and travel, and he even conquers...

(The entire section contains 1755 words.)

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