Three characters in this story—Harry, his father, and Paulus—are physically large men, and this is reinforced by the name Dan Jacobson chooses for Harry and his father: Grossman (as gross means “large” in German). However, though Harry has inherited from his father a great strength, the old man is no longer strong and senility has destroyed much of his mental capacity. On the other hand, his “passion for freedom,” which causes him constantly to run away from home, is his understandable desire to escape from a household in which he knows that he has no real place.
To Harry, the old man’s senile flights are a nuisance, a social embarrassment, and a source of resentment and guilt. The resentment is against a father whose past failures were the reason for which Harry had to work so hard as a young man. When his father, setting off for South Africa, was somehow diverted to Argentina, his wife was forced to go into debt to help him come home. Harry had to work for years to pay off the debt, to finance their passage to South Africa, and, because the old man could not hold a job, to support them when they got there. Because he was forced at an early age to fill his father’s economic role, he hates the old man, though he also cannot escape the sense that he owes his father filial affection. His guilt for his failings as a son is submerged in his bitterness about what he considers to have been his father’s exploitation. To make matters worse, the old man in his senility demands, “What do you want in my house? . . . Out of my house!”
Harry’s Zulu servant Johannes proposes using Paulus, a “raw boy” from the country, who, he claims, is his brother, as a caretaker for the old man. In fact, Paulus may only be his relative or someone from his own village. This close identification of the two Zulus with each other is important in the story because it contrasts with the mutual alienation that characterizes Harry’s household. The Jews also were once a tribe, but Harry and his family are incapable of thinking even in family terms, let alone in the tribal terms of Johannes and Paulus. Harry is suspicious of Johannes’s suggestion, but he consents because he thinks it would be a fine joke on his father and, because he considers Africans an inferior race, on Paulus as well.
Paulus solves the problem of the old...
(The entire section is 964 words.)