How is racism depicted in 'Life for a Life' by Alan Paton?

Essay by anna1818High School, 11th gradeB, April 2004

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How is racism depicted in 'Life for a Life' by Alan Paton?

'Life for a Life' is a short story written by a famous white South African author who became involved in the fight against apartheid. It is a story about the murder of a rich white farmer and the revenge killing of a black shepherd. The story was written at the height of apartheid in 1962. Most of Alan Paton's work was written to express his views on the injustices in South Africa. His aim was to bring about change. Apartheid lasted from 1948 - 1991 and the story illustrates the division between the white and the black people.

In 'Life for a Life' the two races live totally different lifestyles. The whites live in big houses and the blacks live in small stonehouses which are very cramped and more like huts. Black people have no rights and very little freedom.

The blacks are employed on the Kroon farm as shepherds, labourers and servants. They hate the whites and are afraid of them but are unable to stand up for themselves. They have to be polite and respectful even when provoked. They can not show their feelings of hatred. This is shown in the line:

... 'but as befitted people in their station, with salutes and deference.'

'Life for a Life' is written in the third person narrative. The author wants the reader to empathise with the black people, in particular Enoch and Sara Maarman. The tone of the language in the story conveys aggression and superiority on the part of the whites and inferiority and subservience on the part of the blacks. A good example of racism is when the white detective Robbertse insults Enoch Maarman:

'You creeping yellow Hotentot bastard'.

Also an example of subservience of the...