The Story of an African Farm Characters
The main characters in The Story of an African Farm are Waldo Farber, Lyndall, and Em.
- Waldo Farber is the son of the farm’s overseer. He is a dreamer who struggles with his faith, falls in love with Lyndall, and leaves the farm to find work but later returns.
- Lyndall is Em’s orphaned cousin. She is determined to receive an education and becomes an independent thinker who rejects marriage and religion.
- Em is the stepdaughter of Tant’ Sannie, the owner of the farm. She eventually runs the farm herself and agrees to marry the Englishman Gregory Rose.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1147
Waldo Farber is arguably the protagonist of The Story of an African Farm. He is only a child when the story starts, but he is already a dreamer, someone who searches for a high ideal, yet he easily falls into despair when he does not find it. As a boy, he longs for God, but when God does not respond to him as he wishes, he concludes that either God hates him or there is no God at all.
As Waldo grows older, he falls in love with Lyndall. He also discovers the joys of reading and knowledge. When he suffers abuse at the hands of Bonaparte and Tant’ Sannie after his father’s death, however, Waldo grows more cynical and cold. His emptiness and despair reach their zenith when he leaves the farm to go to work, and he finally decides to return. Lyndall’s death nearly crushes Waldo, but he discovers the ideal of the Universal Life, which brings him peace, and he dies at the end of the novel, immersed in the beauty of nature and comforted in his dreams.
Lyndall is both a dreamer and a cynic. An orphan, she has little in the way of material possessions, but she has her dreams. She wants an education, and she wants power. Lyndall is determined to make something of her life. She convinces Tant’ Sannie to send her to finishing school but learns more on her own through reading and experience. When she returns to the farm, she is filled with ideas about women’s oppression and power, about marriage and love, and she speaks of these to Waldo.
Lyndall claims that she believes in nothing, that she has no conscience and not much in the way of love. Most people seem to be tools that she uses. She wants Gregory’s name yet not enough to actually marry him. She wants freedom with the stranger but ends up alone and ill. She claims not to have loved her baby, yet she asks Gregory (disguised as a nurse) to cover the child’s grave with a cloak. Indeed, Lyndall is a collection of cynical contradictions, high ideals, and desperate desires that she never fulfills before she dies in a wagon looking at her own reflection.
Lyndall tells Gregory that there is more goodness in Em’s little finger than in Lyndall’s whole body, and perhaps she is right. Em is good. She is a steady, caring, loving young woman who puts other people and their needs and desires before herself. Em humbly considers herself to be not especially good or beautiful, and when Gregory claims his undying love for her, she feels blessed to receive it.
Yet when Em realizes that Gregory is no longer in love with her but has turned his affections toward Lyndall, she breaks off their engagement. It hurts her horribly, but she refuses to chastise him or blame Lyndall. Em is a supportive presence for both her cousin and Waldo, giving them exactly what they need. She runs the farm efficiently, hides her emotions from everyone else, and maintains her balance and cheerfulness even in the midst of pain.
Otto Farber, the German overseer and Waldo’s father, has a deep, strong faith that nothing can shake, but he is also rather naive. Otto wants to see the best in everyone, even Bonaparte Blenkins and Tant’ Sannie. He is hospitable, kind, loving, and giving. He puts himself last, sharing everything from his food to his few pieces of clothing with people whom he believes need them more than he does. To Otto, this is service not only to other human beings but also to Christ.
Otto, however, tends to believe other people even when they are clearly deceiving him. He puts his full trust in Bonaparte, for instance, and is unwilling to listen to anything against him. This backfires on Otto in the end, but even then, Otto simply bears what he must, prepares to leave his home with a kind of joy, and dies in peace and innocence.
Tant’ Sannie is a silly, shallow, and superstitious woman with a streak of cruelty. She is easily influenced, first by Otto’s sincere presentation of Bonaparte and later by Bonaparte’s maliciousness toward Otto and Waldo. Tant’ Sannie does not think for herself but follows others in their opinions. She laughs at Waldo’s pain, insults Otto even after his years of faithful service, and hits the innocent Em. Tant’ Sannie is also superstitious, and this prevents her from showing more cruelty than she does. She is careful about usually not mistreating Em and Lyndall, for instance, because she is afraid that the ghost of her late husband will come back to haunt her if she does. Tant’ Sannie does seem to find a measure of happiness in her marriage to Piet and in her baby, but she clearly has her husband cowed.
Englishman Bonaparte Blenkins is a con man to the core. He puts on a show of religious piety, gratitude, and responsibility, but it is only a show. His goal is his own benefit, money, new clothing, a comfortable place to live, and especially power. When Bonaparte attains some power, first as schoolmaster and then as master of the farm, he abuses it, punishing the innocent Em, falsely accusing Otto, and abusing Waldo. There is a deep cruelty and maliciousness in Bonaparte as well, and he seems to take pleasure in hurting others, especially Waldo. He is a hypocrite and an opportunist who does not change throughout the novel, for he marries Tant’ Trana, a dying woman, for her money.
Gregory Rose has a fickle streak. He claims to love Em more than anything and forever, but Lyndall soon distracts him. Gregory does, however, remain loyal to Lyndall to the point of dressing as a woman and nursing his beloved through her final illness. Yet then he goes back to Em, on Lyndall’s orders, to begin what will probably not be a happy marriage for either of them.
Waldo’s stranger appears at the farm one day and tells the boy a story about the unattainability of truth. The stranger claims that he does not believe in anything, yet he presents a specific philosophy to Waldo through the story that changes Waldo’s perspective on life.
Lyndall’s stranger becomes her lover, but she will not marry him. He will take away her freedom, she says, and break her. He insists that he loves her and will marry her, but he also seems content to accept her plan of living together without marriage. There is an arrogance about this man in the way he refers to Lyndall as “poor little thing” and in his condescending proposals of marriage.