Out of the Frying Pan

Part Two (water): Quest for identity
Whatever happens is echoed interminably by what has happened, by what is yet to come.[1]


Having defined the four central characters, I shall now follow them further into the story and through the climax of the novel, in order to see how they view their own as well as the others role in it. I shall concentrate mainly on Nicolaas and Galant, even if I shall include other characters where this is appropriate. Galant will be given most attention, since he is the only one of the two that clearly develops and changes as a character in the course of the novel. As my aim still is to point to the cultural and individual predispositions of the characters as a means of explaining their thoughts and actions, and as this is provided mainly by Brink through the characters’ recollection of their own past, I will have to spend considerable time (and space) on their respective pasts.

Nicolaas marries Cecilia, but their marriage is a failure. This fact is another decisive aspect that plays a role in Nicolaas’ handling of life on the farm. He has lost his one true love, Hester, and he will never forget her. Hester, in a way, predicts the future when, at Nicolaas’ wedding, she describes him as looking like ‘an antelope wounded and waiting, uncomprehending, for the shot that will put it out of its misery’ (p. 135). Cecilia marries Nicolaas only because she believes it to be God’s will: ‘It was a question of faith’ (p. 113). She, however, is the first and only person in the novel expressing explicitly what is a basic idea of the novel as a whole (if we interpret slavery in the wider sense of discrimination): ‘They should have abolished slavery long ago’ (p. 118), even if she may have the wrong reasons for wishing as she does. She feels oppressed by the slaves: ‘they ruled over hearth and home […] they knew, and I knew, that they were indispensable’ (p. 118), and she feels threatened by them, because she does not know what they are: ‘always underfoot like domestic animals; yet somewhere, it seems, lurks a strain of human feeling’ (p. 398). These thoughts result in recurring nightmares, mostly about being raped by a black man, which is what she holds as ‘the worst that could possibly happen to one’ (p. 399).

The new relationship between Nicolaas and Galant, the two childhood playmates having become master and slave, is still one of mutual dependence, at least on the part of Nicolaas: ‘You’re my right hand, Galant. Without you I’m stuck’ (p. 121). Galant has a different view:

from his way of talking I know it is different now. We’re not boys any more. It’s different. There’s a harness holding me; there’s a rein. Sometimes it’s short and sometimes it’s slack, but it’s there for good. (p. 121).

Without any of them at that time knowing fully the meaning of this, their relationship has taken a turn over which they have very little control. Both of them are forced to play roles that they do not feel at home in, determined by the surrounding society, by their respective religions and world-views, by inherited cultural habits and thoughts, by their relations to other people, by fate.

From the beginning it is clear that Nicolaas wants to be a good master to his slaves. But for them, nothing changes much. Life still consists of work. In Pamela’s description of her life as a house servant at Houd-den-Bek, we get a sense of a never ending flow of nagging, suspicion, condescension, and, of course, endless work. It even includes washing the family’s feet, an action with a tragic irony that they seem unable to recognize. And Galant feels insecure in his position at the farm, he does not know his exact place: ‘Right hand or slave? We’re not children now’ (p. 125). He starts testing Nicolaas, in order to find out exactly where he stands. Galant is convinced that the day will come when Nicolaas will try to ‘break him in’, if he takes his position as right hand to the limit, a limit he suspects to be much closer than Nicolaas will admit. Nicolaas is ‘scared to jump on his [Galant’s] back and ride him as he should. But it has to happen, sooner or later’ (p. 126). Lest we should forget the unavoidable end, a notion of things moving in a destructive direction is kindled by bad omens throughout the novel. Galant feels ‘as if death is hard on my heels, and sooner or later will track me down’ (pp. 127–128). We see Galant struggling with himself and his confusion:

I go to one of the stone walls we’ve built and I begin to break it down, heaving off stone after stone to hurl into the night like pebbles thrown into a dam, except this time there is no water and one sees no rings. I shut my eyes very tightly as I throw the stones, trying to shatter the images of children swimming in the black dam, all of them with their smooth otter bodies. You can’t go with us today, Galant. You’re not allowed to look at Hester. You’re a slave. (p. 128).

One gets the feeling that Galant would have been better off had he grown up without the intimate contact with Nicolaas and the others. Then he would not have known anything other than the life of a slave. As it is, he has knowledge about what life can and should be like, and being denied access to it is intolerable. Ontong, one of Galant’s potential fathers, envies Galant his somewhat favoured position at the farm and the fact that he was born into it. Galant, on the other hand, thinks that Ontong is better off, because when things become too difficult he can dream about his home land (pp. 183–184). Galant knows of nothing else, he has nowhere to escape to, so he keeps on defying Nicolaas, to ‘find out how far he could go’, ‘listening for the inevitable splintering sound’ (p. 185).

One of the things Galant does, both in order to vent his anger when having had trouble with Nicolaas and as a means of testing the limits in relation to him, is to mistreat Nicolaas’ horse, a horse that Galant is very fond of. When Nicolaas, on one of these occasions, actually sees what is going on, he warns Galant:

‘If I ever catch you doing that again—’
‘What will you do then?’ asked Galant.
‘Galant, you’ve been trying me for a long time. One of these days you’ll be going too far.’
‘How can I go too far? I’m just a slave and the son of a slave.’
‘I’m warning you.’
[…]
‘It’s the last time, I’m telling you. Your work is going from bad to worse. You’re looking for trouble. Do you understand me?’
‘No, I don’t understand you at all. If I don’t do my work well I must be punished. You’re the baas, or aren’t you?’
‘Galant.’ […] ‘We’ve always got along well.’
‘That’s for you to say.’
‘If it happens again, only one more time—’ (pp. 187–188).

The other slaves and Hottentots are worried about what is going to happen, with the exception of Dollie, who wants to run away and hopes Galant will give him the opportunity. But apart from him and Galant, the rest seem to be content, or at least they see no better alternative. They try to convince themselves and each other that they have a good life, and that they could not have managed without their masters.

When it comes to mistreatment of the slaves at Houd-den-Bek, the first instance we hear about is how Cecilia, the Nooi, thrashes Lydia. The reason, according to Bet, is that Cecilia ‘couldn’t stand Lydia’ (p. 141). But it is quite clear to us that the real reason is ‘the Baas’s weak spot for Lydia’ (p. 141), and his frequent use of ‘his right’ (p. 141), as Bet calls it, to pay her nightly visits. Cecilia, when in her rage of jealousy, completely loses control when flogging Lydia. Clearly then, violent behaviour is not restricted to being an exclusively male characteristic in this society. It seems to be a way of communication where verbal communication is no longer possible. Cecilia’s crying and reciting from the Bible while flogging Lydia is a strong image of her intolerable situation. In utter confusion and on the verge of insanity it seems, she turns to the only expression of existential crisis available to her. The mixture of inconsistencies, contradictions and rough life that she is in the middle of in this particular country at this particular time becomes too much to handle. There is an additional sense of perversity when Bet describes Cecilia, after she has finished the flogging, as looking ‘like a woman who’d been with a man all night’ (p. 142). Why does Brink add this sentence to the scene? Is it not terrible enough as it is? This may again echo his Sestiger programme; the idea of bringing everything out in the open, especially sexuality. This particular episode mixes sexuality with violence, something which occurs several times in the novel and which unites two basic human qualities: the capacity for love and the capacity for destruction. These two opposites seem to be related in some way, and to provide the most basic contrast in the novel, a contrast that exists within every character. In the same way as Ma-Rose remarks about water (p. 169–170), that it can be both a blessing and a curse, human beings seem to have very much the same potential.

After this there are regular instances of mistreatment. But the first person to interfere in an instance of mistreatment is when Hester stops Barend’s flogging of the slave Klaas, on their farm Elandsfontein. She asks him the central question: ‘Is this the only way you can be master to them?’ (p. 158). But Hester and Barend live in different worlds; Barend has not even got a vague idea of what Hester is talking about. Here we have a good example of the women’s role in this society. Even though it seems male dominated and repressive also toward women, it is evident that they move in the background, pulling strings. There is a very clear and strong female side to the development that seems to gather momentum. Hester needs no explanation in this respect; Pamela stands behind Galant; and Cecilia, to a certain degree, rules Nicolaas: ‘when there was trouble between Galant and Baas Nicolaas more often than not she [Cecilia] was behind it’ (p. 267). Alida comments on these relationships in this way: ‘And here we all were, each woman left with the destiny of the man assigned to her. Hester with Barend. I with Piet. Cecilia with Nicolaas. Not even death could make a difference’ (p. 287). Both Nicolaas and Barend mistreat slaves partly as a result of women’s influence. This marks a difference between them and Galant, who seem more a part of history. Galant is a necessary chain in a historical development that will end, or has ended now, in the abolishment of slavery and hopefully in equal treatment in every way. Nicolaas and Barend on the other hand act more on the spur of the moment and on impulse, and are clearly part of a society that is declining into decadence. Their stern religious background mixed with sudden feelings of almightiness leads to a corruption of the ability to judge what kind of behaviour is proper and what is not.

Bet, Galant’s wife, brings him the news that may be the first cause in a more direct sense of what leads to the rebellion. She has heard news to the effect that slave children are to be set free at birth, but the Cape government is against it. It may here be useful to give a short account of the historical background for these rumours. The British annexed the Dutch Cape Colony in 1795, to protect their vital sea link to India against Napoleon. From 1806 the Cape Colony was British until South Africa declared herself a republic in 1961, which means that most of A Chain of Voices takes place after the British have taken over. The first substantial number of people from Britain arrived in 1820, which is, roughly, some four years before Galant hears the news about the abolition of slavery. However, from the very start it was evident that the Afrikaners and the British were not going to work together. As Sparks points out, the Trekboers’ lifestyle was really more like that of the black tribes than that of the new British rulers. Sparks claims further that the presence of the British and their ‘crushing the tribes in war, annexing their territory, and eroding their institutions with Christianization, education, and finally industrialization and urbanization’,[2] was what really sparked off the conflict between the black and the white inhabitants of the country; at least they helped to establish the conflict firmly. But a minority of the British settlers brought with them ‘the habits of free expression and the ideals of democracy’.[3] They argued for the abolition of slavery. In addition to these there were bands of British missionaries, one of whom was David Livingstone, who ‘championed the cause of the black South-Africans, challenged the excesses of the settlers, and pressured the colonial authorities to restrain them. These were the crusading days of emancipation’.[4] The effect of this was that a sense of the coming emancipation for the blacks was in the air, a hope which eventually became a reality in 1834. This was not welcomed by the Boers, who resented not so much the abolition of slavery, as ‘the new interference with their traditional way of life that had begun with the British occupation’.[5] We are given Nicolaas’ reflections on these rumours that are all over Cape Town. He observes how English pressure on South African government to abolish slavery is increasing, accelerated by the ‘misguided dangerous fools from the London Missionary Society’ (pp. 222–223) and philanthropists in England. The thought is absurd to Nicolaas, and it causes great anxiety with him. This is crossing the limit of his willingness to evaluate what alternatives are eligible if he is to do something concrete about the life he is so dissatisfied with: ‘It was one thing to resent the farm as I had always done, and to wish for a different life; but to be driven from it by the laws of strangers, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, that was something else’ (p. 223). He feels an ‘impotent rage that came from the rediscovery that our lives were held hostage by the whims and wishes of a distant adversary we didn’t know and had no hope of influencing’ (p. 223). This is what many historians regard as the essence of white South African history: how the Dutch settlers were denied control over their own lives as a separate group, and how the slave question, in a way, became a symbol of this final loss of influence over their own situation, thus turning it into an issue involving the integrity, dignity, and self-respect of the Boers in relation to the foreign power, but in the opposite way of what one would normally expect. For the Boers, the retaining of slavery, and not the abolishment, became the cause to affirm the human qualities mentioned. Nicolaas is trapped in this logic: ‘The past was a mess, the present perplexed me; all I had to hold on to was the future, and that lay embedded in the very land that oppressed me. It was the paradox of my condition; and submission to the land meant submission to God’ (p. 224). In the final analysis then, Nicolaas’ religiousness seems to destine him to his existence, though it may easily just as well serve as an excuse not to reconsider his relationship both to God and the world that surrounds him, which he still possibly could have done. But doing so might prove painful and force him to change his way of life completely.

In connection with the improvements in the conditions of slavery imposed by the British, several ways of handling the situation are proposed by different neighbouring farmers: 1) treat the slaves properly; 2) make do without slaves; 3) free all the slave children at birth. According to Barend, all these alternatives are absurd, because ‘there’s a difference between slave work and white man’s work’ (p. 160). Not using slaves is the same as setting yourself against the Bible. Nicolaas believes that the slaves need him, he wants to retain slavery out of compassion for the slaves: ‘How will they ever subsist on their own? They can’t do without us’ (p. 160). At this point, Hester asks another intriguing question: ‘Would any of you like to be a slave?’ (p. 160). She seems to be the only one to really question the system of slavery as such. The Boers at this point feel trapped between two evils, they are

no longer allowed to decide or arrange our own affairs. We couldn’t even take it out on those under us: we needed them too much […] Something in the world had become unjust and unmanageable; and it was obvious that only evil could come of it. (p. 162).

Whereas it is quite clear what Barend and most of the other farmers feel about the English, blacks, and slavery, Nicolaas’ views are more difficult to get a grip on. He ‘never wanted anything so much as to be liked, and he might say anything merely to win approval’, says Barend (p. 164). To Nicolaas it is all ‘getting very confusing’ (p. 165). He has other problems than that of handling the slaves, however. He goes to Ma-Rose hoping that she can cure his impotence, an act that we may interpret as an image of the interdependency of the cultures existing simultaneously in this country. Nicolaas is not able to sleep with his wife, and part of the reason is obviously his lasting feelings for Hester. Another part of it is Cecilia’s ‘aggressive insistence to be used, to be degraded in order to vindicate her womanhood’ (p. 178). What other reasons there might be we can only imagine, but what with his confusion, be it religious or existential, or indeed both, it seems very probable that some kind of physical symptom should manifest itself sooner or later. Ma-Rose tries to give him some sort of medicine, but nothing helps. Then she recommends a remedy that has never failed: he must ‘soak [his] root in a black woman’(p. 172). Black women seem to be able to give something white women cannot give. Nicolaas is very shocked and abhors the idea. Ma-Rose then tells him about Piet’s, his father’s, habits in the past. Nicolaas looked ‘as if a horse had kicked him’ (p. 172). This is the pretext for Nicolaas’ visits to Lydia. Nicolaas’ problem, however, is not solved with this. Ma-Rose recognizes his problem as

different, deeper and darker and more dangerous. It was the flood I felt swelling below the surface of our farms long before the storm broke out. An invisible flood, and all the more ominous for that. (p. 173).

Here, Nicolaas is drawn into Ma-Rose’s interpretation of reality and is given a natural place there. I am not sure how much this helps us in understanding Nicolaas. If he is part of a flood it is difficult to measure the degree of intention on his part. Much like Harry Angstrom in John Updike’s Rabbit Run, Nicolaas seems to have a basically critical attitude to, and a deep discomfort with, the society around him. But he lacks the knowledge or insight to articulate in a precise way exactly what he is critical of and exactly what he would like to have changed. What might force him in the direction of acquiring this knowledge is the constant psychological wrestling with Galant. This subterranean flood, which is mentioned at intervals throughout the novel, and in this chapter especially, makes one think of Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’; the ‘savage place’, the sacred river running below the surface, through ‘caverns measureless to man’, the sudden ‘mighty fountain’ seething with ‘ceaseless turmoil’, and the ‘ancestral voices prophesying war!’[6] Galant, it seems, will never accept what Ma-Rose tries to tell him, that Nicolaas is ‘the baas. […] No matter what he does, he got the right to do it because he’s baas’ (p. 175). Even though Ma-Rose thus professes obedience and patience, her mythical world seems to grow impatient. In the night she and Galant hear the ‘thas-jackal’, ‘the spirit of the dead that turns into a jackal to haunt the living’, moving ‘in the direction of the farmyard’ (p. 176). This is obviously Galant’s son who cannot find rest. It becomes clear that in Ma-Rose’s mythology there is also an eternal and blissful hereafter, a Paradise that Ma-Rose puts all her hopes in, where everything is ‘smooth and even, black and shimmering in Tsui-Goab’s moonlight’ (p. 177).

One symptom of Nicolaas’ growing sense of absurdity, his ‘awareness of something physically closing in from all sides’ (p. 227), is his frequent uncontrollable rage

What was this strange, mad, blinding rage that came upon me almost without warning at times? […] It was as if in such moments I suddenly became a stranger to myself: as if I was looking down, from somewhere high up, upon myself raging and ranting; it seemed like madness, so unnecessary, so foolish. I wanted to reach down and touch that raging man and whoever was his victim, and ask them not to pay too much attention, it wasn’t meant to be like that at all, it was a dreadful mistake: but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I wanted to cry out to God: Why was He doing this to me? Why could I no longer understand Him? I had always tried to live according to His commands. […] Why this confusion now, this feeling that the Word itself had become inadequate to cope with my grownup life, this inability to control the world of which I was supposed to be master? (p. 181).

This is another outburst of what may be called Nicolaas’ existential crisis. We see that life becomes too complicated for Nicolaas. He finds himself in situations for which he is not prepared, and he handles them without being able to think clearly: ‘For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do’ (p. 181).[7] This is, partly at least, due to the fact that he is in the process of losing his belief in God. But, at the same time, it is impossible for him to judge anything without reference to God. He consequently blames himself for not being able to act according to God’s will and feels that he should be punished for the evil deeds that result from this. When this punishment does not come, when he realizes that he can do anything without having even to consider the consequences, he develops a kind of cynicism that allows him to think about Lydia: ‘Whether I flogged her to placate Cecilia for some imagined wrong done to her, or caressed her, would be the same to Lydia, a submission to the whims and idiosyncrasies of the master’ (p. 179). Eventually it allows him to conclude: ‘I was the master, she the slave, she would do what I wished; that was all’ (p. 179).

Fear seems to be a central component in this tense relationship between black and white, and in her somewhat naïve way, Alida is very close to formulating something like a major theme of the novel, a kind of definition of xenophobia:

The slaves were huddled beside the house, not daring to approach: dull placid faces hewn from dark stone, suggesting the cool of the earth as well as its secret heat.[8] Will these too rise against us one day or night? Who are they? They move through our houses, lurk in our lives, but I know nothing of them. Who are we? (p. 62).

What is this, if not the universal human fear of the Other, so brilliantly exemplified in this novel because of the particular historical situation? Fear is what lies at the bottom of this. Fear of each other and fear of themselves, a fear that has its basis in an existential uncertainty about one’s role in the world. Religion and God provide comfortable absolutes: ‘If in a world where things are held sacred the problem of rebellion does not arise, it is because no real problems are to be found in such a world, all the answers having been given simultaneously. Metaphysics is replaced by myth.’[9] But the historical situation poses difficult questions that challenge this form of escapism that it indeed has turned into. Galant, on the other hand, is not afraid and has an easier situation than, for instance, Nicolaas. For one thing, Galant’ ‘place’ is clearly defined and he also knows that an improvement of the situation requires a comprehensive reformation of the social structure. He can afford to use drastic methods because he has nothing to lose. In addition he is almost forced to react, given the circumstances and being the person that he is.

The fate of the son of Bet and Galant accelerates the conflict and intensifies the reader’s urge for justice to assert itself. One day David, named after King David of The Old Testament, still just a child, is killed by Nicolaas after having once been warned to stay out of his way. Cecilia is the one behind it all, maybe acting out of jealousy because Galant and Bet had a son and she could only have daughters. Nicolaas, enraged after having been accused by Cecilia of not being ‘a real man’ (p. 180), stumbles over the child as he storms out of the house: ‘I swear to God I never meant it to die; on another day I would not have laid a hand on it’ (pp. 180–181). Nicolaas is guilt-ridden, but seems to recover without too much trouble, though ‘it was clear for all to see how heavily the event lay on Nicolaas’s mind’ (p. 185). He gives Galant a new corduroy jacket as ‘compensation’, though Galant is told the child died from an illness. The by now nearly insane Bet finds herself perversely lusting for Nicolaas to complete the tragedy: ‘Take me. Break me apart. But he wouldn’t’ (p. 149). This incident is typical of Brink. In a society like that of Houd-den-Bek, and at this time in history, it is very difficult to say what is likely to have happened and what is not. It may not even be desirable to establish the exact probability of each particular event if we take the novel as a whole to be an attempt to give some psychological backgrounds of apartheid; it is how they function in the novel that is important. But Brink uses these kinds of terrible incidents to highlight the feelings involved in this kind of situation. The dwelling on such episodes may, as mentioned in the previous chapter, give nourishment to accusations about Brink’s speculating in sex and violence. But in my view these episodes function very well in the novel and gives a feeling of utter honesty. ‘Truth will out’,[10] is Brink’s attitude, and he certainly will hide nothing in this novel, no detail will be concealed from the reader. The details that were completely absent from the court report at the beginning of the novel will all be given appropriate words and be accompanied by the appropriate feelings of the individuals involved in the particular situation.

A decisive confrontation between Galant and Nicolaas takes place when Nicolaas returns from a trip to the Cape a week before he is expected to. A sense of religious disillusionment and an argument in Tulbagh, where Nicolaas claimed that slaves treated properly will never leave their master even if they gain freedom, is what is on Nicolaas’ mind on the way home from the Cape, when he learns about the way Galant has allowed the slaves to feast on the farm in his absence, in direct opposition to his orders. Galant intends to tell Nicolaas that the sheep have been killed and taken away by some hungry animal. But when Nicolaas returns, Galant is caught in the act of slaughtering. This is a severe blow to Nicolaas’ belief in Galant and to the position he thought he mastered. He fells that he fights against history, but cannot do otherwise: ‘It had become too complicated to understand’ (p. 228). Five sheep are missing, and Nicolaas gives Galant several chances to get away with it, suggesting that a leopard might have taken them. Galant, however, gladly admits:

‘I slaughtered them myself.’
‘You had permission to slaughter once a week. Wasn’t that enough for you?’
‘We wanted more.’
Nicolaas pressed his thumb into the head of his pipe and put it away in his shirt pocket.
‘The two of us had a lot of trouble before I left, Galant,’ he said. ‘I hoped to see an improvement when I came back. I warned you didn’t I?’
‘That’s so.’
‘Ontong, Achilles.’ He was speaking slowly to control his voice. ‘Go and tie him up over the empty barrel in the stable’ (p. 193).

First Nicolaas orders Achilles and Ontong to flog Galant, but Galant provokes Nicolaas into doing it himself. The jacket is torn into shreds when Nicolaas seems to lose control. He has to be held in order to stop him from killing Galant. The jacket now torn attains a new symbolical dimension for Galant; ‘This is my child’s jacket’ (p. 230). Previously it represented Nicolaas’ bad conscience for the death of Galant’s son David. Now Nicolaas has trampled on what was, after all, a token of regret. Galant insists on wearing the jacket to remind both himself and Nicolaas of what has happened, and Galant is called ‘Tatters’ behind his back. This incident is crucial for Galant. Galant has always found himself favoured compared with the other slaves. But he has wanted to find out how far he can push it. Up until now, Nicolaas has excused every provocation on Galant’s part, but having previously warned Galant, Nicolaas now sees no other possibility than to keep his ‘promise’. This is exactly what Galant wants; now he can break every emotional tie with Nicolaas and view the world in complete black and white. He considers this a wall: ‘Now I’ve made the jump. I’m over. And I have survived’ (p. 195). But this is only to find another wall: how should he respond?

To punish both Nicolaas for being master and himself for remaining slave, Galant mistreats Nicolaas’ horse. Galant identifies with the horse and blames it for not breaking loose and escaping when Galant flogs it; in the same way as he blames himself for not doing anything about his own situation: ‘It’s my own wall I got to face’ (p. 195). From being simply an urge to change things for the sake of his own person, Galant’s scope is widened to include his fellow slaves. First it is extended from one, himself, to two, himself and Pamela. In the beginning he resists this notion: ‘Inside me something seems to be saying: Here is another wall’ (p. 198). With Pamela he enters a relationship he has only experienced the possibility of with Nicolaas and Hester. Now that they are forever excluded even as possibilities, Galant thinks he now is on his own (Bet is out of the picture after their son was killed). But when Pamela utters the disturbing ‘I care’ (p. 197), she forces Galant to realize that he has responsibilities toward her, himself, and his whole group of fellow victims:

In absurdist experience, suffering is individual. But from the moment when a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience. Therefore the first progressive step for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to realize that this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that human reality, in its entirety, suffers from the distance which separates it from the rest of the universe.[11]

It seems as if Galant’s relationship with Pamela is a decisive factor to speed up the movement of the action. She makes him see that complaining every time he is flogged will lead nowhere, that he cannot change anything on his own. But Galant is scared of what may happen: ‘I got no right to ask anyone to be with me. There may be a terrible thing coming’ (p. 264). Again we are reminded of Mandla in The Wall of the Plague, and his arguments for not getting attached to anyone, especially not a woman, because it will make one vulnerable in one’s struggle for freedom. But, as Mandla, Galant has to surrender to love. She asks him the simple question he uses what remains of his life to answer, and which is closely connected with the forces within him that drive him to rebellion: ‘Who are you?’ (p. 265). At this stage he is unable to give an answer that is not depending on his relationship to other people. In his inaugural lecture given at the University of Cape Town, Brink poses the question:

What can be more violent than a question? Questions determine our limits, define the periphery of what is permissible, of what has so far been thinkable. And it is our search for answers to those questions which prompt us to transcend limits.[12]

Earlier Galant has tried out the peaceful options available to him in order to improve the conditions at the farm, with a firm belief in the law. When a commissioner comes to check the conditions after Goliath has complained about having to work on a Sunday, they realize that the local law cannot be trusted. For one thing, Goliath cannot tell the truth because he knows he will be punished by Barend afterwards. But in addition, it is evident that the commissioner wants to believe the lies, because otherwise ‘it would cause him trouble and I [Goliath] know he didn’t want that’ (pp. 207–208).

The morning after having been flogged by Nicolaas, Galant walks to Tulbagh to complain to the Landdrost. But it is a futile attempt. He is treated as a deserter; the Drosdty is staffed by people who are just like the masters: ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?’ (p. 199), they ask when he describes his situation. As if they had any interest in interfering with how the farmers mind their business. After wondering why the swallows have not left for the winter, ‘They are free to go, yet they stay’ (p. 199),[13] Galant is thrown into prison. But here he experiences another decisive factor on his way to the rebellion we know will come, ‘a night that changes the look of my world’ (p. 200). He shares his cell with ‘a giant of a man’ who is ‘quite naked’, ‘his arms are in chains and his legs are shackled’ and ‘When he groans it’s the great deep sound of a lion’[14] (p. 200). He is the mistreated and oppressed slave, and becomes an ideal for Galant. This man has travelled the road Galant has just embarked on, he is now at the end of this road; he has done ‘the worst’ (p. 201). He explains that, in a situation where he was alone with the master’s wife, who had done everything to make life miserable for him, he was in a state of rage and had the opportunity to revenge himself on her. Then he realizes that she, and all she stands for, is vulnerable; they can be stopped, killed, just like other people: ‘It made me sick to see that creature pleading so sloppily with me’ (p. 203). Then he does what cannot be forgiven: in desperation she offers her body to him if he does not kill her, but he ‘kicked her in the crotch and walked away’ (p. 204). This is repeated in the rebellion, when Cecilia is shot in the crotch. Cecilia also thinks this worse than being raped, ‘the most degrading humiliation of all’ (p. 468). This is, of course, not about sex. It is a symbol of the nature of the rebellion. It is not a rebellion where the rebels want to conquer their opponents for the sake of attaining sexual access to the white women as a token of their success. No, the nature of the rebellion, at least to Galant, is to reject any form of contact with white people whatsoever. This is what Galant now feels has been proved by having been flogged by Nicolaas: communication or coexistence is impossible and undesirable. This is also affirmed by the lion-man. (Galant, however, will learn that it is more complex than this.) The other thing the lion-man tells Galant about is the place across the Great River, where there are ‘people, a whole colony of them: bastards, runaways, all sorts of people who have escaped over the years to settle there and be free’ (p. 201). This is a variant of the myth about Monomotapa mentioned before, which comes to symbolize a kind of Paradise, a kind of religious ever-after for Galant to strive for. But this knowledge is also hard to live with, ‘worse than death’ (p. 204), if one comes to realize that it can never come true. As the man goes on talking, he becomes more and more incoherent, mixing up bits of his past and childhood with complicated messages he wants Galant to carry for him. He sounds more and more like the voice of Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A voice rambling on and on, confused, incomprehensible, and feverish, we only understand that this man has experienced something that has taken him to the limits of what is possible to endure, and the message that comes through is one of revolt and destruction: Exterminate the brutes! The next day Nicolaas turns up to fetch Galant. The assistant flogs Galant at Nicolaas’ request. Galant endures the flogging in a new way, because of the stories of the lion-man. Overhearing a conversation between Nicolaas and the assistant, Galant, however, learns that the Court in Cape Town would perhaps have viewed his case differently and supported him.

Here I’m on my way back to Houd-den-Bek, even more bruised than when I came to Tulbagh to complain. Yet I hardly care about it: in a way meeting that man has made it worth my while. But do not ask me why. (p. 206).

On their way back from Tulbagh, Nicolaas shows that he is still frustrated and insecure when it comes to the order of things in his private universe:

How I abhorred those tracks ground into the very stone, on which I moved to and fro, forced always back to the farm, allowed no will of my own, predestined on my course by the wish of a father with no concern for private urge or aberration. (p. 209).

Travelling together back home, Nicolaas finds himself in a very sentimental mood, still believing it possible to re-establish some of the spirit of the childhood friendship again, even if he senses the hostility in Galant: ‘After all that had happened there was still no sign of subservience in the way he carried his battered body; there was pride in the very tatters he wore’ (p. 210). We get an image of how Nicolaas feels, of his confusion, in his description of the fog: ‘From the fog sudden shapes would present themselves, swimming towards one like obtuse fishes in muddy water’, and ‘even as one looked at them their stark outlines would fade into a blob, a blur, and disappear again’ (p. 210–211). This is the mind of a person without a hold on the world, a world that loses its meaning the more he tries to establish it; a world where the only meaning is reduced to trying frantically to keep control, to secure one’s own position. And they get lost in the fog. Galant knows the way, but Nicolaas will not listen to him. Galant even saves Nicolaas’ life when he nearly walks off a cliff. They seek refuge in a small cave that Galant knows of. This is where Nicolaas completely surrenders to sweet memories of a happy, uncomplicated childhood. He asks if Galant remembers too, ‘trying to force some response from him, some sign at least of repentance or remorse, an acknowledgement that the past was not entirely irrevocable, that redemption was still conceivable’ (p. 213). But Galant will not talk about it, and why should he? ‘No suffering worse than the remembrance of past happiness’ (p. 282). What is the use of escaping into a distant past when the present is intolerable, and the only person that can do anything about it without bloodshed is convinced that the present situation is the only right one? This refusal to escape into the past also reveals that Galant, unlike Nicolaas, believes in change. Nevertheless, it seems as if this night Nicolaas could have been approachable on a deeper level. He is aware of ‘a more insidious evil at which I could only guess and towards which I could only grope. It seemed a night made for it’ (p. 214). But I think it would be naïve to think that anything could really have changed even after an open-hearted conversation. That is part of the determinism of the novel. There are no possibilities of really understanding each other, we are all tied down by culture, inheritance, society, responsibilities. Nicolaas admits that he cannot ‘handle the farm without’ Galant (p. 215), and that all he wanted to do when he was about to take over Houd-den-Bek was ‘run away’. Although he ‘never wanted to be a farmer’, Nicolaas is unable to change this, he has not got the will or the strength to break out. And he does not know what he wants to do: ‘I don’t know. I’ve never been given a chance to find out’ (p. 215). He only knows that he wants to become ‘a man in my own right’, which seems to indicate that he does not approve of a system that makes one dependant on the exploitation of others. Here Brink shows that there are small openings for dialogue, for change, but for Nicolaas it is far too early, he is still too involved and tied to his own inherited and indoctrinated world-view. But it seems as if Nicolaas secretly and perhaps unconsciously hopes that something will force him to clear up in his mind what he wants:

all I can do is get up and go out, and walk down to the kraal to look at the cattle or sheep lying there, all those dumb sheep, chewing their cuds, stirring when they see me, too stupid to do anything about it; and then I think I’m just as dumb as they are, locked up in my kraal for the night, driven out in the morning to graze, and brought back at dark. And sometimes I wish a bloody leopard or a lion would jump into the kraal and kill me and drag me out for good. (p. 216).

It becomes very important to Nicolaas to explain this to Galant, to make him understand: ‘There was no one but Galant, and he denied me the single word of comfort I required’ (p. 216). Nicolaas’ thoughts and talk during this night may seem somewhat hard to accept. How can he be aware of all this, think these thoughts, and still not understand where the problem lies? still not see what he ought to do? He knew he ‘was sitting beside a man whose body had been torn and broken at my own bidding’ (p. 217). It may indeed seem incredible, but then, it is hard to imagine what kind of world-view is required to be able to justify for one self a system of slavery. And this has little to do with intelligence or education. Apartheid existed until very recently, something very similar was at work in Germany during World War II, and indeed in the very contemporary conflict in Yugoslavia, both conflicts in some way rooted in the idea of ‘ethnic cleansing’, or the superiority of one race over another. There lies a profound lesson for all of us in these examples, never to think that we would have acted otherwise, that it cannot happen to us. Nicolaas himself demonstrates one reason for why this can happen even to us. He had sworn that night never to lay hand on Galant again, but ‘the moment we descended into the Bokkeveld he [Galant] shifted beyond my grasp again’ (p. 275). It is certainly difficult to stick to one’s ideals when confronted with the complexities of life in a society. Later he realizes that ‘revulsion diminishes; that only the first act of any series is important’, and that after that first action, ‘in spite of intentions or efforts to resist, there is no effective return’ (p. 275).

What Galant wants to listen to that night, however, is what Nicolaas can tell him about the Cape. Nicolaas does not realize that these stories are fuel to Galant’s urge for freedom. These are the stories Galant will use later to feed the other slaves with as providing reasons to rebel, hopes for a better future. Nicolaas gets carried away and tells wilder and wilder stories: ‘What I knew I told him; what I didn’t know I invented’ (p. 219), and Galant cannot get enough: ‘like a child at play he would urge me on: more! more!’ (p. 219). Nicolaas feels an ‘amazing closeness developing between us’ (p. 219), but it is evident that he is alone in feeling this way. This episode reinforces the impression that Nicolaas is unable to handle the complexities of adult life, or that it disturbs his original good intentions. When he and Galant are alone together in the cave, separated from society, everything is simple and safe. Nicolaas can afford to be generous and tolerant (we see a similar, though much more short-lived, relationship develop between Barend and Abel on their trip to Cape Town). Nicolaas has a notion of the shallowness of his emotions: ‘below the territory of memories and dreams and wishful thinking we explored ran a dark slow current which I tried to deny but which was there and which, whenever we fell silent, obtruded like the night […] I knew, it had to break out and flood the forced gaiety of our make-believe’ (p. 219, 220)—these are the ‘ancestral voices prophesying war!’. Nicolaas goes on to tell Galant about an episode he experienced in the Cape, and which is another warning about what is going to happen: a Malay slave going amok with an axe, killing innocent people after having been jostled by a soldier causing him to drop his bundle of firewood. To Nicolaas, the experience is absurd, though he has got a notion that ‘in saying it [to Galant] I knew I shouldn’t, for this was the dark current running below and for the first time I recognized it’ (p. 220). And Nicolaas is right. Galant is glad the soldier got killed and has great sympathy for the Malay slave, whom Nicolaas thinks mad. Nicolaas recognizes that ‘the hidden current had emerged from what had seemed such solid earth and now we were in it’ (p. 222), but for Galant this happened long ago. Brink thus seems to deny, or at least question, the Blakean notion that innocence and experience are states of mind that are equally ‘real’ and that can both be present in the grown-up world. In Brink’s world innocence is rarely the same again after its encounter with experience.

When Galant comes back from Tulbagh the first plans of rebellion have obviously been born in his mind, an urge to run away. He does not share Abel’s view that it is enough that ‘You get born, you live a while, and then you die. Me, you, the lot of us. What’s so bad about it?’ (p. 235). Something about what happened in Tulbagh has changed Galant; earlier he hated Nicolaas for flogging him, but now ‘I even feel sorry for him’ (p. 236). This is where Nicolaas ceases to exist as a person to Galant, and becomes entirely a representative of everything Galant wants to remove and destroy.[15] A process of separation and independence has begun, where the slaves try to distance themselves completely from their masters. The slave Abel remarks, after first having observed with laughter, then with disgust the farmer Frans du Toit’s attempt of sexual intercourse with a sow, that ‘If it went on like that we might soon have to say Baas and Nooi to the pigs’ (p. 244). This reminds us of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the pigs reserve the top of the social hierarchy for themselves, proclaiming that ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’,[16] and in which, toward the end, they turn into human beings. The final passage of the novel reads:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.[17]

If we were to follow this allusion further, we could develop a comparison between the working horse Boxer and Galant, showing them to be somewhat parallel characters. This, however, will not be elaborated on in this thesis.

Galant starts talking about his experiences and thoughts all over the Bokkeveld: ‘a lot of talking went on all over the place’ (p. 239). The majority of the slaves have decided that ‘Now it’s up to us’ (p. 245). Parallel to this, Hester lives under very much the same conditions and shares the same thoughts as Galant, the only difference being that she fights for her rights as a woman, and Galant as a human being. Barend starts mistreating Hester physically too, making her situation even more like that of the slaves. As with Galant, Hester’s only hope is for the future: ‘One day your sons will be strong enough to avenge their mother’ (p. 248). And Barend reacts much in the same way as Nicolaas does with Galant: ‘It’s your own fault […] You drive me to it. You know I don’t want to’ (p. 248). On one occasion, Hester and Barend goes to visit Nicolaas and Cecilia just as Nicolaas is flogging Galant for having mistreated Nicolaas’ horse. Barend gives him a hand with the sjambok, which thrills Cecilia who thinks Nicolaas is ‘too soft with them’ (p. 253), but Hester feels sick. Hester is not interested in what Galant has done to deserve punishment, it is irrelevant. Again the talk is about the government at the Cape. Nicolaas is afraid that ‘one morning we’ll wake up to find that they’ve all been freed overnight’ (p. 253). Hester links this directly with her situation as a woman and claims that there is no reason to worry about that:

No one will think of liberating an ox or a horse. You can only bother about liberating a slave if you think of him as human. So how do you expect men to think of slaves in that way if they haven’t even discovered that women are human yet? (p. 253)

She takes a walk by herself. Her thoughts wander freely, evolving around concrete things like the nature around her, and her own body and its demands. Looking at it in this way makes everything seem so simple, so uncomplicated—yet it is not. She reflects on the question about truth and perception: ‘is there, ever, anything “out there”: freedom? truth? Can it ever be anywhere, or otherwise, than here, in here, inseparable from who you are, what you are, what you were, what you alone allow yourself to become?’ (pp. 254–255). The last sentence echoes a great deal of Sartrerian existentialism. You alone is responsible for the choices you make, the choices that will turn you into what you are. On her walk she passes the barn where Galant has been left tied up after the flogging. She is dumbfounded at the sight of him and orders Ontong and Achilles to cut him down, against Nicolaas’ orders. They refuse out of fear for the consequences. Galant does not want her help, but she ignores it. Hester, like Galant, has a strong memory of their relationship during childhood, and something of that seems to be restored or to exist still, every time they meet by themselves; also this time. When Nicolaas appears, Hester orders him to untie Galant, and she scolds him just as if he were a child. He reacts like a child too, first he almost starts crying, then he obeys her. Hester thinks, mixing what she knew then with what she knows after the rebellion: ‘Tie up a man, I thought then, and he is no longer a man. There is no limit to what you can permit yourself to do to him. Untie his hands, I know now, and there is no limit to the responsibilities you may have to assume for that simple act’ (p. 258). Nicolaas leaves the two of them alone, and Hester washes Galant and tries not to think of the ‘violent world where neither he nor I belonged’ (p. 258). In this exposed situation ‘nothing should be avoided or denied’ (p. 259). When Pamela enters to take care of Galant, the two women stare at each other in a ‘wordless confrontation which, it seems to me, is possible only between woman and woman’ (p. 259). Hester has no problems with acknowledging Galant and Pamela as her equals, as fellow human beings. In fact, nothing comes more natural to her. She knows little about politics and economy, but she knows about human dignity and behaviour, and she will not sacrifice this awareness for anything. Thus, she sees Galant’s and her own cause very much as the same thing: ‘In having him cut free from the thongs that bound him it was myself I’d tried to liberate; in washing him I was praying for my own impossible salvation’ (p. 259). She knows from the way she experiences her own situation that the life she and her people lead is based on something horrible, unforgivable. Pamela’s observations indicate that she and Galant trust Hester as the only white person having any sympathy or understanding for their situation.

Looking for a lost bullock, Galant and Hester have a new encounter at Elandsfontein in Barend’s absence. It is obvious that there is something that binds Galant and Hester to each other. Galant gets ‘a sudden wateriness in the legs to hear that voice’ (p. 298). It is the first time they meet since she helped him after the flogging in the stable, ‘a memory a man can get lost in’. Though he wants to leave, she persuades him to have something to eat. With the echo of the lion-man’s words in his head, ‘That’s the worst you can do in this world’, he is caught in a double bind: if he rejects her, he will offend her, and that he does not want; but if he involves himself with her, it will be something unforgivable in everybody else’s eyes, something that can only lead to trouble, also for his own view of who are enemies and who are allies. She serves him food, and they share a brief moment of rare tranquillity and understanding in this complicated and turbulent world. When Barend afterwards accuses Galant of ‘interfering’ with Hester, and claims these to be Hester’s own words, Galant is flogged again. Galant believes Barend to tell the truth, thus every tie with the white world is cut at the same time as Galant has finished trying to use the law as a means to defend himself. ‘This is the end. One can take it for years. But one day you just know it’s over’ (p. 302). This time Galant runs away.

He [the rebel] means, for example, that ‘this has been going on too long,’ ‘up to this point yes, beyond it no,’ ‘you are going too far,’ or, again, ‘there is a limit beyond which you shall not go.’ In other words, his no affirms the existence of a borderline.[18]

Galant’s escape is thus the next crucial station on the road towards his execution. He stays away for one month, having told everybody that he has left for the Cape in hope of meeting some understanding there. This is a lie, however. He hides in the mountains only to return voluntarily after one month, letting everyone believe that he has, in fact, been to Cape Town. The month in the mountains has been a time of reflection for Galant. If the description of childhood in this novel may be compared to the Garden of Eden, then Galant’s stay in the mountains might very well be a kind of Garden of Gethsemane.[19] During a heavy snowfall, which is death approaching and which in a pessimistic way echoes the paralyzed society of Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, Galant decides that ‘it is impossible to escape. Running away is the solution of a coward and it gets you nowhere, for your body goes with you and everything is right there in the body’ (pp. 321–322). In this way he has come a step closer to answering the question about who he is: ‘This is my body: I feel it. I am Galant. This, at least, at last, I know’ (p. 321). He has stopped defining himself in terms of other people and asserted his own independent identity. He has also resisted the temptation to escape, the temptation mentioned earlier that protagonists of so many of Brink’s novels encounter. Coming back, Galant gets to use all the stories he has been told about the town, in order to convince everyone that what he has seen and experienced is true. Thys, a young Hottentot, observes that now there is ‘a gleam in his eyes, the way a man might look when he’s seen something he has never seen before’ (p. 310). Nicolaas is very relieved when Galant returns, because he is important for the running of the farm. He promises not to punish Galant, a promise he breaks severely. But Galant has changed his tactics. Now he will wait patiently for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, when rumour has it that all slaves will be liberated: ‘I got to be at my own place when the freedom comes’ (p. 311). He tells the wildest stories from Cape Town, which all give great hopes for the future. He also claims that he met the lion-man, and that ‘the people were making preparations for the big day’ (p. 311). Only Ma-Rose seems to see through him (p. 344). His imagination is very much the same as that behind the stories Estienne Barbier of On the Contrary tell as alternatives to the truth. Galant makes it sound as if he came back to prepare the slaves of the Bokkeveld for the uprising that will come all over the country. This makes him able to endure floggings and mistreatment. So, consequently, he starts asking the others if they are with him. Only a couple of them hesitate.

Frans du Toit, Field-cornet, is the one responsible for catching Galant. Frans is a person who believes very strongly in the need for law and order, but Nicolaas gives him the deaf ear when Frans speaks about this: ‘In the old days it was different. Every man had to fend for himself. But the world has changed, Nicolaas’ (p. 305). Frans has all the ‘correct’ notions about the law-regulated society: ‘the law must be enforced to make sure that one man’s justice doesn’t become another’s injustice’ (p. 306). His talk seems very different from the way life has traditionally been led in the Bokkeveld. He is perceived as a political activist that everybody agrees is so extreme that he is, and should be, ignored: ‘Each must give up a measure of his freedom to ensure justice for all. And even if it means that some individual has to bear the brunt of it from time to time, it is still worth while, for the sake of an ordered world that guarantees justice and room for everybody’ (p. 306). For Frans, however, these are nothing but nice words. There is nothing in his actions to prove that he really believes what he is saying.

It is obvious that Nicolaas does not approve of the new relationship between Galant and Pamela, maybe out of envy (his own marriage being something of a failure) or because, according to his somewhat narrow view, she might come between Galant and himself. In an episode where both Nicolaas and Galant are in a bad temper—Nicolaas because Cecilia has humiliated him and Galant because he has been given the blame for something he did not do—Pamela intervenes to avoid confrontation, thus giving Nicolaas an idea of how to get to Galant in a new way; by using Pamela sexually. He orders Pamela to start sleeping in the kitchen—using an excuse that everybody see through, including his wife—and thus starts sleeping with her at the same time as he prevents Galant and Pamela from leading a ‘normal’ life as man and wife. Cecilia reacts with abhorrence, comparing it with Frans du Toit and the pigs, and she thinks to herself,

we were living in a house built upon the sand. And the rain would descend, and the floods would come, and the winds would blow, and beat upon that house; and it would fall; and great would be the fall of it’ (p. 274).

Here Cecilia uses three of the four natural elements to describe the development of things. These three elements, plus fire, is used by Brink as a structuring device for the novel proper as a whole, and according to which I have, to some extent, structured this thesis.[20] The first part, ‘earth’, establishes a common ground for the action, a source from which we all originate. Cecilia, however, says ‘sand’ in a Biblical sense and not ‘earth’, somehow admitting that they have built their existence on something that cannot last very long. Then there is ‘water’, ‘the rain’, which is the element providing the overall theme for the part of the novel presently under discussion, and which accounts for the frequent use of words like ‘flood’ and ‘stream’. This element resembles pure life, a stream of energy that has an immense potential both for destruction as well as construction. It is history evolving under the individuals’ feet. Water is facilitated by the third element Cecilia mentions, ‘wind’. This element is more unpredictable and may turn the way we least expect it to. It can also symbolize communication between people, the word that spreads, that cannot be chained down or wiped out. She does not mention the fourth element, ‘fire’, because she does not know what will happen after the house has fallen.

To Nicolaas life has become a whirlpool of confused actions that drag him further and further down, ‘the sin in me’ (p. 276). His perception has gradually been distorted, so that his thoughts seem backward. He claims that his arrangement with Pamela was not meant to hurt anybody, it was a means to get in touch with Galant; the only way left. He sees no other way to bridge the gap between them, to regain ‘that terrible closeness to him I’d known in the one night of my life when I’d been wholly free’ (p. 276). It is evident that Nicolaas interprets the night in the mountains totally different from Galant, for whom the mere thought of reconciliation is completely absurd. But Nicolaas has no one to turn to: ‘To whom could I turn to in my distress?’ (p. 276). Even Ma-Rose is inaccessible any more. Passing her hut, though longing to enter, he realizes that he ‘could no longer face her’ (p. 277). He decides to go to D’Alree, the newcomer, who is also aware of the isolation of man: ‘One is always alone. We talk and live past each other’ (p. 279). But learning that D’Alree was his mother’s first love, that even D’Alree is mixed up with his family, ‘cancelled the only reason I’d had for confiding in him: the fact that he was an alien, and aloof from our lives […] He was one of them’ (p. 278). It is interesting to note that Nicolaas still feels different from ‘them’, he does not identify with his family and friends. With D’Alree no longer available, he decides that Pamela is the only person left who can play the role of a safety valve against the building pressure. D’Alree in his turn regard the people living in the Bokkeveld as a unity hostile to strangers like himself: ‘The Bokkeveld, I soon discovered, was reluctant to open its heart to outsiders’ (p. 279). This emphasizes the theme of communication, showing how the different characters seem to inhabit their own little world and think of themselves as in a unique situation. D’Alree is also aware of the danger in trying to communicate: ‘Once you get involved with others there’s no telling where it may end’ (p. 279). In many ways he functions as someone observing from the outside, someone with a good deal of common sense and with a language that flows over with proverb-like statements, but who is passive in action, avoiding conflict. He is unable to transform his basically insightful and broad-minded attitudes into real life, which turn him into not much more than a cliché. As a shoemaker he becomes important to Galant, who wants D’Alree to make him a pair of shoes. At this stage of Galant’s quest to find out who he is, he wants to copy Nicolaas, his goal is to take Nicolaas’ place. D’Alree promises to make shoes for Galant, but never does. At one point, Galant decides that his shoes have been given to Nicolaas. This forms part of Galant’s process of establishing himself as an independent person, a human being in his own right.

Surely there must be something more, something which can make others say long after I’m gone: This is Galant. And that is what I got to find: with her [Pamela]. Which is why no one in the world has the right to take her from me for in this night she has become part of me without which I can never be Galant. Something in me is now forever chained to her, and willingly. Why does it not choke me then? Why this feeling that only with this chain on my body can I know the possibility of my freedom? I try to find the sense of it but the thoughts lay too heavily on my mind. (p. 292).

A new aspect to the conflicts at Houd-den-Bek is added when Pamela gets pregnant. Galant, with his feeling for history and bright hopes for the future, is overjoyed at the thought of becoming a father: ‘We are of today and yesterday; but he’s tomorrow’s dawn’ (p. 294). The child is something that is only theirs, ‘No one can take him from us. Not even Nicolaas. There are some things even he cannot be baas over’ (p. 297). Galant wonders, though, ‘Can I be sure that even this is true?’. This happens while Galant gets more and more excited about the prospect of change. He overhears a conversation between Nicolaas and Barend to the effect that liberation is approaching. They decide that they will shoot all the slaves if slavery is to be abolished.

Nicolaas’ development parallel to this is into deeper and deeper confusion and frustration. He feels lost and alone, and also abandoned by God due to his sins. His frustration is rooted in the fact that he does not understand how to identify and thus deal with his troubles. He is caught between two worlds and cannot decide which to choose.

It would be possible to demonstrate in this manner that only two possible worlds can exist for the human mind [in Western thought]: the sacred (or, to speak in Christian terms, the world of grace) and the world of rebellion. The disappearance of one is equivalent to the appearance of the other.[21]

Nicolaas thinks to himself: ‘If only something visible and graspable would present itself to grapple with and overcome […] But in this anonymous flood I was helpless. And most ineffectual of all was the Word […]’ (p. 316). This enhances the notion that both Nicolaas and Galant are heading for some sort of crisis. In Galant’s case it is much more obvious and simple, whereas Nicolaas’ problems are very subtle and indefinable. But there is the possibility of seeing the two developments as throwing light on each other, complementing each other and thus making us able to get a better grip on what it is in the novel that makes it into something more than a reconstruction of a particular historical event. In this way we may see the final uprising and rebellion as a climax for both Galant and Nicolaas, an unavoidable result of a growing sense of the unbearable heaviness of being. Nicolaas says about flogging Galant for having run away, that it was ‘a terrible way of torturing myself’ (p. 317). They seem almost to be two different aspects of the same life; the outside and the inside, as it were. This also takes the notion of interdependency mentioned earlier to an absolute extreme: Nicolaas feels that ‘only he [Galant] could tell the truth’ (p. 317). It seems as if Galant has found ‘the world of rebellion’, as Camus mentions, whereas Nicolaas still clings to ‘the world of grace’ but finding it lacking; somewhere there is a ‘lie’, a ‘lack of knowledge’ (p. 317). Galant becomes a symbol of something that reveals and mocks Nicolaas’ deficiencies. Nicolaas believes that if he can reassert his authority over Galant, he will gain control over his own existence once again. This has become impossible now that Galant has returned after his own free will, demonstrating ‘nothing so much as the compass of my own bondage’ (p. 318); but Galant, having ‘chosen it for myself’ (p. 322), has also chosen in an existentialist sense to live authentically, to take responsibility for his own situation, to use the opportunity that history offers him: ‘at least I got a place now that is mine. All I got to do now is to get out from under the masters’ (p. 345). Nicolaas, however, decides once again to escape by putting everything in God’s hands, to trust His ‘inscrutable will’ (p. 318).


[1] Brink, The Wall of the Plague, p. 370.
[2] Sparks, p. 46.
[3] Sparks, p. 50.
[4] Sparks, p. 67.
[5] Sparks, p. 67.
[6] Cited from Romantic Poetry and Prose, ed. by Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling (Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, 1973), p. 256.
[7] This feeling is paralleled in The Wall of the Plague, in the words of Andrea, a coloured woman: ‘What I wish I do not do. What I do is not what I want’ (p. 266).
[8] See Ma-Rose’s description of the country on p. 20 of the novel, and pertinent comments in this thesis.
[9] Camus, The Rebel, pp. 20–21.
[10] Brink, ‘Mapmakers’ (1978), in Writing in a State of Siege, p. 167.
[11] Camus, The Rebel, p. 22.
[12] André Brink, ‘An act of violence: thoughts on the functioning of literature’, Pretexts, Vol. 3, No. 1–2 (1991), p. 37.
[13] This is also a recurring theme in Brink’s fiction: why stay or come back to the miserable South Africa if one has the chance to escape? Joseph Malan, in Looking on Darkness, returned to South Africa from London, where he could have stayed for the rest of his life, only to be tortured, imprisoned and finally executed. Andrea Malgas, in The Wall of the Plague returned, even though she had established a new life in Paris. Even Brink considered establishing himself in Paris, only to find it impossible to stay away from his mother country. Later we shall see that this also applies to Galant.
[14] The lion-man also appears in The Wall of the Plague, where he is a black activist in a violent contemporary resistance movement, Mandla Mqayisa.
[15] See Camus, The Rebel, p. 23: ‘The slave who opposes his master is not concerned, let us note, with repudiating his master as a human being. He repudiates him as a master.’
[16] George Orwell, Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 114.
[17] Orwell, p. 120.
[18] Camus, The Rebel, p. 13.
[19] See Andon-Milligan, p. 27.
[20] ‘I tried to broaden and deepen the enquiry by relating the voices, in four successive sections, to the elements of earth, water, wind, and fire’, in Contemporary Authors, p. 43.
[21] Camus, The Rebel, p. 21.

Lindgren (c) 2018