Monday, September 27, 2010

Not Every White Man Prospers in South Africa

Reading J. M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country, I was continuously reminded of the protagonist’s poverty. And by poverty I not only mean economically but also emotionally. Here we have a young girl abandoned and alone with the death of her father, which not only leaves her in want of money and sustenance but also a need to be loved and appreciated. She loses control of her servants and cannot sustain the farm to provide food and money. But her loneliness and longing to be loved is more important in driving this story in which she references countless times. One such reference includes her longing for a husband and that if she would find one it would make her emotional poverty disappear: “If only I had a good man to sleep at my side, and give me babies, all would be well, I would perk up and learn to smile, my limbs would fill out, my skin glow, and the voice inside my head stutter and stumble into silence” (40). Unfortunately, no such husband presents himself, and she is forced to accept shallow, unloving sexual intercourse from the servant Hendrick, who does not so much as even look at her during the act not to mention love her. When the servants finally leave her alone on the farm she resorts to trying to gain companionship from the twelve-year-old messenger boy, who promptly runs off at her mention of sex.
As an English colonist to South Africa, she has endured great hardship not only financially but also emotionally. Her situation helps attest to the weakening of the British Imperialism of the mid to late 20th Century. With other colonist like her enduring hard times and unable to not only cope with harsh financial situations but also the emotional hardships of being alone in a strange land, the influence of Britain on their colonies would indeed wane and give rise to growing independence movements in South Africa and elsewhere.

1 comment:

  1. The narrator's numerous mentions of undergoing a life-changing transformation by getting married, or just having a loving partner, are interesting. Her fathers neglect is only one part of this abandonment and isolation she feels. She keeps away from almost everyone, even her servants. Assertion of superiority, in some way, such as the employment of South Africans as servants, can be seen as a form of isolation. People need to interact with one another, and such isolation has debilitating effects on the mind, which we can see through the course of the novel. Could the isolation of race or class cause the narrator's insanity? It is almost as if the narrator must find company in the form of someone she has never met, so she fantasizes about meeting that man. So, to me, mentions of a husband strike me as indicative of the decadence of the colonizer.