The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

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Part 2: Chapter 2 Summary

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Waldo is lying on his stomach, carving something, with Doss beside him. Em, who is now sixteen, comes out with a jug and saucer for him. She tells Waldo about a new Englishman who has arrived to hire out half the farm. He is young, and he and Em looked directly at each other and blushed. Lyndall is away at school, and Em must get a room ready for the new man.

Waldo is still carving when a stranger rides up. He is not the new man Em mentioned. This is a “well-dressed gentleman” with a mustache. He asks Waldo if he may rest there a while, and Waldo gives him cakes and a drink from the jug. The stranger rests, thinking about how he greatly prefers the civilized life of books and brandy and how life is merely a dream.

The stranger engages Waldo in conversation and looks at Waldo’s carving, a wooden grave post. The stranger offers to buy it, thinking he will throw it away later, but Waldo will not sell. It is to go on his father’s grave.

The discussion turns philosophical, and the stranger says that he “believes nothing, hopes nothing, fears nothing, feels nothing.” Then he tells Waldo a story.

The story is a parable or allegory about a hunter who sees a large white bird one day and has a strong desire to see the bird again. He never does, and he broods. His friends do not believe his story about the bird and call him mad. The hunter is alone.

Then the hunter meets an old man called Wisdom who tells him that the bird is Truth but that the hunter has not suffered enough to find it again. The hunter catches many other birds with the net he makes with the Shuttle of Imagination and the thread of Wishes. The birds are beautiful, and people love them, but the hunter is not satisfied. He meets Wisdom again and learns that the other birds are Lies. The hunter releases them, leaves the land of Superstition, and starts out on a quest into the mountains to find Truth.

The hunter wanders long and is tempted by Sensuality, but he escapes. He climbs and works long and hard for many years, building stairs, sometimes thinking that he would soon find victory, but he does not. He grows old in his work, and he must fight against Despair, but he does not find Truth. Just as the hunter is about to die, he receives one white feather of Truth.

This is the story the stranger tells, based on the grave post Waldo has carved, but the stranger says that there are other possible stories as well. That is the nature of art. The stranger tells Waldo that his art has truth, but now it needs beauty.

The stranger asks Waldo to tell him about his life on the farm, and Waldo relates a “confused, disordered story.” The stranger suddenly says that Waldo is happy to be on the farm, and he explains that experience will teach him this in time. He gives the boy a book and then leaves.

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Part 2: Chapter 1 Summary

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Part 2: Chapter 3 Summary