The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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Part 2: Chapter 1 Summary

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As the novel's second part opens, three years have gone by, and Waldo is lying in the sand. The author then makes a long digression about the seasons of the life of the soul, and she uses the first person plural to include readers in the description. In infancy, there are only impressions of senses, delight in small details like an orange or rainbow, and sometimes desires unattained and the crying that accompanies them.

As children grow, they fear the dark and learn to pray and take comfort in the angels. Sometimes children hate to learn and would rather play. They learn about nature, but they also develop a sense of self, and this can be frightening.

At about age seven, children love Bible stories, and they enter into a period in which they delight in self-sacrifice and are “profoundly religious.” Yet they have questions, too, and dissatisfaction arises when they do not receive answers from adults. Children begin to love the Bible then and to live in the spiritual world, but the questions remain and intensify. They suffer much because of the temptations of the devil, who questions their faith and love of God. They begin to think that they are wicked, and they seek comfort from adults but do not find it. They are young and ignorant and do not know how to cope.

Finally, after much weeping, they find peace and feel God’s presence. This lasts for a while, and it is a time of sweetness in which God is everywhere, but it is also all about feeling. Then an experience comes of other people’s ideas about God. Children go to a church service and hear about God’s wrath upon a sinner and see how people behave. None of this fits with the children’s idea of God, but parents tell them they are wicked for not wanting to go to church.

The reality of life intrudes upon the children’s dreams, and the old questions come back. There is a split between the God they have known and the God other people teach. The young people turn cold and often lose their faith entirely, thinking that nothing matters. They keep on living and working but feel little or nothing, merely brooding over the emptiness within and around them.

Then, suddenly, these young people are caught up in the desire for knowledge. They begin to observe the details of nature with a keen eye, and the world comes alive. There are connections everywhere within the natural world, and young people realize that it is not “a chance jumble” but something alive. They feel “intense satisfaction.” There is meaning everywhere, a great whole of life, and young people “begin to live again.”

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Part 2: Chapter 2 Summary