The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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Part 1: Chapter 1 Summary

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The story opens at night on a South African farm owned by Tant’ Sannie, a Boer woman of Dutch heritage, who is dreaming that she has a sheep’s trotter stuck in her throat. In the next room, two girls lie sleeping. One briefly wakes and calls out to her companion, who does not respond. In another building, the German overseer is also asleep, but his young son is awake, listening to the ticking of his father’s watch and thinking about people dying at every moment. He reflects on how few people may be saved and prays that more will be.

The next day, Tant’ Sannie; her orphaned stepdaughter, Em; Em’s orphaned cousin, Lyndall; and the German overseer go about their usual business. The boy, Waldo, is herding sheep and working arithmetic problems. He makes a little altar and sacrifices his dinner meat to God, praying and hoping that he will see God’s glory. He does not and concludes that God must hate him. Waldo goes home and plays with Em and Lyndall, but his heart is not in the game. Lyndall notices that he has been crying.

Two years pass, and Waldo is looking at the moon and crying. He is lonely, but he cannot pray. He decides that he loves Jesus but hates God, and he believes that he will certainly be lost now, suffering greatly in his “intense loneliness” and “intense ignorance.”

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Part 1: Chapter 2 Summary