*Karroo. Arid, dusty plateau of the southwestern part of what is now the Republic of South Africa and the interior of what was the British Cape Colony during the period in which the novel is set. Most of the action takes place on the plains of the Karroo, a region at once beautiful and oppressive. The blazing summer sun, which makes the earth itself cry for water, oppresses both man and beast, adding to the sense of powerlessness felt by the child characters who are the focus of the story. On the other hand, at night the moon and the stars lend a touch of beauty to the land; and at the end, after seasonal rains again turn the land green, even the sun seems benign, and the landscape becomes lovely—so lovely that Waldo almost melts into it. However, the overall effect of the landscape is that of something oppressively hot and barren, another source of suffering in a novel of suffering. Even Waldo’s union with the landscape at the end is achieved only through his death.
Farm. Ostrich and sheep ranch on the Karroo that gives the novel its title. There, Waldo, Lyndall, and Em live under the control of the Boer farm woman Tant’ Sannie. The farm is a simple place, with a few plain buildings and corrals (kraals) for animals. It is not a place of prosperity; rafters in its buildings are worm-eaten, and the roof and the bricks of its main house are crumbling, contributing to the sense of gloom that pervades the novel. The farm also projects a feeling of claustrophobia. When Tant’ Sannie’s stepdaughter, Lyndall, returns from school, she says that she feels suffocated in the farmhouse—a feeling that perhaps symbolizes the way society suffocates her desires because she is a woman.
A room at the top of the farmhouse contains provisions, books, and women’s dresses. It is a place where characters learn things. When Waldo, the son of the farm’s German overseer, goes there, he discovers books that promise...
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