We discussed post-colonial theory in terms of these categories: history, language, education, place, body. Discuss the novel as it speaks to at least three of these categories.
In the Heart of the Country is a classic novel which demonstrates the relationship between whites and blacks in South Africa in the apartheid era. The principal topic which is very clear in this book is the history of the place where black South Africans are emarginated and almost eradicated by policies of resettlement applied by their white masters. In fact the main character in the book, Magda nurses a bitter hatred towards the African race largely embodied by her complete isolation in the Veldt which are the vast plains of the Johannesburg region. Historically this was Bantu land but the Afrikaaners and Boers made it their own setting up farmsteads and other properties where they made the most out of the rich natural resources of the said land.
The language of the book is also deep and full of psychological invective. The most interesting aspect of all this is the relationship between Magda and her father who disrupts tradition by taking an African mistress, this is something that Magda cannot understand. She sees the African’s as her enemy so that fact that her father took a mistress from them is something which puzzles her and creates intrinsic self doubt in her. However she does continue caring for her father, albeit grudgingly and without much purpose although everything develops within the context of the root cause for survival. In fact Magda’s self control seems to go out of the window when an attractive black male servant arrives to live with the family and she also experiences sexual longings of her own. This is played out in high drama which is an essential part of the book.
The location is probably the most important aspect of the book however. The vast plains of the Veldt and the Traansvaal hold their own intrinsic secrets and Magda struggles to come to terms with them, especially when she is continually confronted by loneliness and unhappiness. She attempts to find meaning in the work she does but all this seems to vanish into nothingness in the vast Veldt which does not speak but chastises at the same time. The relationship between land and humans which is an intrinsic part of African culture cannot always be understood by Magda who perhaps is continually confronted by self doubt and inner turmoil. Her relationship with her father which is a stormy one also is played out in the context of this vast barren landscape which could be said to have a mind of its own. The power of this aura cannot be overstated.
The education levels of Magda are not always what one may deem as good and ignorance perhaps also plays a part in all this. Magda seems to have no goal in life other than taking care of her depressed father who actually comes to life when the maidservant appears. All these themes are strongly interwoven into a narrative of intense beauty and almost fatalistic tragedy throughout. It is a novel which speaks powerfully and directly on the South African heartland and the extreme harshness of life which is played out in this setting of mystery and redemption.
Coetzee JM: In The Heart of the Country’, Johannesburg; Vintage 2004; Print