Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1321
Everyone in Valley Song is pursuing a dream, and it is the nature of the characters' dreams and how far they are willing to go to achieve them that really defines who they are in the world of the play.
Abraam Jonkers' dream is the simplest of the three. It was handed to him by his father when he was just a young boy. While working in the fields one day, his father explained to him that if he grew up to be a good man, then God would make his days as sweet as the grapes that grew in their valley. To be a good man, he explained, Abraam must work hard on the land, love everyone who lives in his home and village, and have faith and worship God in the village church. Since that time, everything Abraam has done has been an attempt to live up to his father's directions. He has dedicated himself to the same patch of land, his ‘‘akkers,’’ that his father farmed, and is inseparable from the earth, even though he can never own it himself. He has cared for everyone in his home—his daughter, Caroline; his wife, Betty; and now his granddaughter, Veronica—even as they have left him one at a time. And he is devoted to his faith in God, despite the fact that his days have not always been as sweet as the grapes of his valley.
Insofar as Abraam's dream of a simple, honest life on the land is productive and not harmful to others, it seems admirable, but his dream comes with complications as well. It interferes with the aspirations of his daughter and granddaughter, who don't share his love for the land. Abraam's simple dream also seems narrow and outdated with the prospect of a ‘‘new’’ South Africa, where everyone—black, white, and coloured alike—is free to dream bigger dreams.
Veronica represents the spirit of this new South Africa. She has lofty dreams of leaving the valley village and heading off to the big city where she can become a famous singer and one day appear on television. Because she is too young to have experienced the worst of apartheid in the old regime, she does not share the fears of her grandfather that the white world will close the door of opportunity that leads to the fulfillment of her dream. Her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for her dream are enviable and exciting, but they, too, carry danger. As The Author warns her more than once, if dreams are too big they may not come true, and dashed dreams can lead to disappointment and bitterness.
For his part, The Author has had his share of both passionate dreaming with some success and unrealistic dreaming with disappointing results. In his sixty-plus years he has achieved some of the fame and fortune as an artist that Veronica is seeking, but the struggle has taken a toll on him. Where he once had grand dreams about a ‘‘Glorious Future’’ for his country, he now dreams only of escaping the artificial world of cities and the theater and living out his days in the ‘‘real’’ world of the Karoo farmland. He tells Veronica, ‘‘The future belongs to you now,’’ and symbolically passes the torch of hope, the ability to keep on dreaming, from his generation to the next.
Cycle of Life
Valley Song begins and ends with The Author presenting the audience with a symbol of fertility: a handful of pumpkin seeds. The seeds represent the cycle of life, an idea that is central to the play and its characters. Just as the seeds are planted in the ground, sprout with the sunshine and rain, grow into vines and ‘‘Flat White Boer’’ pumpkins, then return new seeds to the earth, the characters and the society they live in experience birth, growth, death, and renewal.
Each of the three characters that appear in the play is somehow tied to the land, and therefore directly affected by nature's cycle of life. For Abraam Jonkers, the land has been both his life and his living since he was a boy. Every year he plants the seeds in the earth, tends the sprouts and vines, harvests the vegetables, then retreats indoors for the winter while the land lies dormant. He has been a witness to the complete cycle of life of his daughter, who ran away and died in the city, and his wife, who grew old and died on their farm. In the end, faced with the loss of his granddaughter as well, it is the land that saves Abraam. Instead of allowing him to be left ‘‘slumped in defeat and misery,’’ The Author presents him with another handful of pumpkin seeds, and they are the key to Abraam's rejuvenation. Once more old Buks tramps into the fields to plant again, suggesting that the cycle of death and rebirth will continue. Like the pumpkin fields, old Buks will once again come to life.
For Veronica, the land is a trap. She, too, has experienced the cycle of seasons, the planting and harvesting of crops, and feels the rhythm of life in their small village in the valley. But she is part of a new generation that is not satisfied with the life its grandparents and parents led. She requires a different sort of nurturing—a tending of the soul—in order to thrive. At one point she pleads with old Buks, ‘‘I am also a living thing, you know. I also want to grow.’’ Her growth, she is convinced, can only occur outside the valley, where new opportunities await young blacks in the cities that once turned them away. ‘‘My singing is my life,’’ she tells her grandfather. ‘‘I must look after it the way Oupa looks after his vegetables. I know that if I stay here in the Valley it will die.’’
For The Author, the land is his dream for his twilight years. His cycle of life, like old Abraam's, is nearing an end, and like the seeds in his hand, he wants to return to the earth of the countryside where he was born. For many years he has waited for the world outside, the world of cities he has lived in, to change. He has been desperate for his country to evolve out of its ignorant, blind prejudices and into a free society. Now that the change he has waited for so long is starting to take place, he is ready for others to pick up where he is leaving off. He wants to slow down the pace of his life and live in the valley that is ‘‘the unspoilt, innocent little world it was when I first discovered it.’’
Signs that The Author's dream of a free South Africa is coming true appear throughout Valley Song. The country, like its characters, is growing and changing. When old Buks fears losing his ‘‘akkers’’ to the white man who is planning to buy all the land, Veronica urges him to appeal to the government, which has been ‘‘taking the land and giving it back to the people,’’ in an attempt to right some of the wrongs committed by the apartheid-era government. As a sign that what she says is true, Veronica relates an experience she had at the post office, when Mrs. Oliphant, the black postal worker, turned away the town's white Brigadier at closing time, telling the infuriated man, ‘‘This is no longer the old South Africa, Brigadier.’’ When Veronica's friend, Priscilla, writes her from Johannesburg, she assures her that there are plenty of jobs available, and lots for them to do, a very different situation from the one black South Africans faced only a few years before. In the cycle of life, the playwright seems to be suggesting, his work is nearing an end, and the work of the new generation, rebuilding the country, is just beginning.
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