The short story “Dead Man’s Shoes” (1998) by David Evans is an astonishing view into the life of a rural village in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, and of the different attitudes flourishing in the community. The story depicts the life of a rich widow, Anne Bezuidenhout, who lives alone on an enormous farm with only her black workers to help her. She has many offers of marriage, all with something to offer her, but she ends up surprising everyone with her choice. However, at the heart of the story we see the persistence of apartheid and conservative values in the ‘new South Africa’.
Perhaps one can see this persistence in the narrative voice of the short story. As a 1st person narrator, he is part of the story, as one of the seven suitors of Anne; “Last and least me, a teacher, divorced by a wife who had found me, my profession and Pampoenfontein too dull for her.” The story is slightly affected by the narrator’s opinions. This is visible in several quotes such as “Most important, she was rich.” and “But a good Black staff was one thing. A woman trying to manage it on her own was quite another.” The last quote is one of several quotes in the short story pointing towards the narrators both racist and slightly patriarchal mind. One could argue that the quote just pities Anne for being alone on the farm, however on page 3 Anne tells the suitors that she is in fact used to hardship. If one reads between the lines, it is clear that she is aware of her situation but is not worried about it at all. The language in the story also has a role in the slightly racist values of the narrator.
We see this in the choice of words the author has made when describing, for instance, Anne and Samuel. In the description of Anne, the author uses many positive words to do a detailed image of her, as seen on page 1; “pleasant-faced with wide green eyes and a voice which carried soft currents of her native Galway. She also had a flickering smile charming and at the same time tantalizing, hinting somehow at private amusement and undeclared opinions”. Naturally Anne would receive a detailed introduction as she is one of the main characters in the story, yet Samuel is also a main character, but his introduction is much less personal and without many adjectives, as seen on page 3: “Anne had taught him to read and write and to do simple sums. This bit of education hadn’t spoiled him as it did so many. He knew his place: bossboy among the Black workers”. On top of that the author has let the characters use several nicknames for Samuel such as “swartgoed” (page 5) and “boy”(page 4). The use of nicknames could, however, lead the reader on to having a look at the characters of the story. As a last contributor to the general feeling of continued apartheid in the story is the characterization. The characters are revealed through an outward description.
In the beginning of the story, the introduction of Anne is given very quickly and detailed. But the author’s way of describing the seven suitors is almost like a list where each of them equals a different personality or genetic trait such as “Harry Smith, the town’s auctioneer, was the oldest”, “Japie van Os (…) was the richest”, “Hannes Snyman (…) was the biggest” and so forth. The reader must therefore make his or her own conclusions on the character through behavior and talking, because of the author’s use of implicit characterization. For instance the reader could focus on the character Maritz Grootbek and immediately conclude that he is indeed a racist. Why? Because he frequently comments on Samuel. One could argue that this is simply because he admires Anne for having “a good staff with a reliable Black foreman” (page 3), but his rude behavior and ways of talking states otherwise. An example could be when he arrives at Anne’s house and is shocked when Samuel doesn’t fetch her immediately; “”Where’s the Nkosikazi (frue), boy?” Jamie demanded roughly. “Go and fetch her. Hurry!”.
Since the other suitor doesn’t argue with his rudeness it is clear that they share his opinions. Last but not least, the shared racist values of the seven suitors become certain when Anne tricks them and decides to marry Samuel. Based on their reaction “We stared, we glared, we blinked in disbelief, then stared again.” (page 5), it is clear that none of them ever thought that they would be put aside in favor of a black man and even after she has announced her will they still “tried to dissuade Anne” (page 5). Even though it is generally known between the characters in the story that Samuel is a good man, he is still considered low because of his color, and the suitors are still suspicious about him. Ultimately this shows that even though apartheid has legally ended, it is still a state of mind for many white South Africans, as confirmed by the narrator himself: “Pampoenfontein may have accepted that all of us – whatever our colour – were equal citizens in the new South Africa, but we were all proud of our past and no white man there could be expected to tolerate any talk of a black being as good as a white”.
Courtney from Study Moose
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