The Waste Land

by Alan Paton

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Could Freddy's actions in "The Waste Land" ever be acceptable?

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In "The Waste Land," Freddy's actions are not acceptable in any situation, for he is part of a group intending to rob and perhaps injure or kill his own father. Freddy's father, however, acts in self-defense and kills his son only by accident.

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Let's begin with a brief summary of Alan Paton's story “The Waste Land” in order to clarify the names and actions of the characters. An unnamed man gets off a bus one night only to find a group of young men apparently waiting for him. The protagonist has just been paid, and he is terrified, for he knows that the young men will rob and perhaps even kill him. Such situations are not at all unusual in his part of the world.

The man runs into a waste land of scrap metal and is injured, but he seems to escape. Then, though, as he goes back to the road, hoping to to get back on the bus, he sees one of the young men approaching him. The bus's lights are behind the young man, so all the protagonist can see is his threatening shadow. In a desperate attempt to save himself, the protagonist hits the young man on the head with his walking stick. The young man falls, groaning.

The protagonist then runs and ends up hiding under a truck. The group of young men gathers, and someone tells “Freddy” that his “father” has gotten away. Freddy does not answer. Herein lies a horrible revelation. The protagonist has hit and killed Freddy, and Freddy is his very own son. We can infer from the story that the group of young men knows exactly who they are chasing and attempting to rob that night, and we can guess that Freddy had probably told them that his father had gotten paid that day.

Let's think now about the actions of Freddy and the protagonist. There is no excuse for Freddy's actions at all. Attempting to rob his own father in a situation that could easily lead to his father's injury or death is just plain wrong. Freddy's father, however, is clearly acting in self-defense. He has a good idea what the young men are up to, for there have been plenty of incidents just like this. He is, therefore, terrified, outnumbered as he is, and he acts out of that fear. He does not mean to kill the young man he hits; he simply wants to get away to safety. Remorse overwhelms him in the end.

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