Waiting for the Rain Critical Essays

Sheila Gordon


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Waiting for the Rain dramatizes the disturbing events of South Africa in crisis. Gordon does not show all white people as evil and all black people as good. For example, in the townships, the “tsotsis” are young, lawless black men who rob and kill indiscriminately. Likewise, Frikkie’s uncle, although narrow-minded, is considered a kind boss. Although he may threaten his workers with the sjambok (a metal-tipped whip), he has never used it. The British family for whom Tengo’s aunt works discusses openly the unfair treatment of black people and sends the sons overseas to avoid serving in the army, whose main mission is to keep black people “in their place.” The white minister who helps Tengo study is also sympathetically portrayed.

Yet, it is with the two believable boys, childhood chums who grow and change, that Gordon is at her best. The youngsters race, swim, and play ball together. In one scene in the barn, they furtively drink fresh warm milk from the same cup, laughing at the white mustaches on their faces. Frikkie only superficially notices the differences in their relations; like his uncle, he wants no changes, a situation that the reader finds untenable.

Dialogue sets the tone of inequity. Frikkie is called “Little Master” (Kleinbaas) by the black farm workers, whom he addresses by first name only. Tengo’s grandmother is “Lettie” to him. Oom Koos is “Old Master” (Oubaas). Yet, the oubaas refers to his adult male workers as “boys.” A derogatory term that he uses for the black children is “piccanin.” “Kaffir” is another insulting term for black people. When Tengo informs the oubaas that he wants to study in the city, he is called “cheeky” by Tant Sannie. Language thus emphasizes...

(The entire section is 719 words.)