Compare and Contrast Characters and Presentation of Fiela Komoetie and Barta Van Rooyen
Compare and Contrast Characters and Presentation of
Fiela Komoetie and Barta Van Rooyen.
Although Dalene Matthee’s novel is set up at the turn of the twentieth century in a predominantly male South Africa, two of the most notable female characters of the novel stand out from amongst the others due to their impact on the development of the central events. I am today going to concentrate on the representation of Fiela Komoetie and Barta Van Rooyen, who appear to exist in different worlds with their own roles and status in the respective families. These two female figures play an eminent role in the life of the main protagonist of the novel, Benjamin Komoetie and undoubtedly affect the utter existence of the two families.
The Komoetie family, based in the dry climate of the Wolwekraal represent the poor class of the South African society which is predominantly black. The family belongs to those who have to work hard for their money on the arid land that they inhabit. In the Komoetie family, Fiela Apoools, which is her maiden name, acts as the head of the family taking control over the daily routines that the family goes through. Although she is the female figure in the family, she clearly possesses more authority over her male counterpart, Selling, who is no able to do hard work due to his physical ailments.
Fiela often uses her authority to force other members of the family to work, but the pressure that she puts on them does not form fear or dislike, but instead earns her respect in the family. She understands that for the survival of the family in the tough conditions, someone must take charge and lead the others. She knows that the work must be done to bring some money into the family, and she often requires that both the children and her husband complete the work. An example of this is when she asks Selling, if he has finished the whip that he was working on, and insists that it must be completed.
One of the basic things that motivate Fiela to do work from day to day, is her love for her family. Although she is critical of the other members sometimes, she wholeheartedly loves them. This can be seen in her fundamental will to bring more money into the family, not because of selfish reasons, but to improve the quality of life in the family in whole. An example to this is the fact that Fiela constantly makes plans about the future, as she wants to buy Laaghans land for Benjamin and also daily takes care of her ostriches hoping they would bring substantial amount of money into the family.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Her love for her family is also reflected in her relationship with Selling, as she risks her life to pay a visit to Selling while he is imprisoned. Despite her mothers warnings, she takes long walks to the other side of the mountain to see her bellowed, and can not bare to live without him as I quote : “it was as if the rope was put around Fiela’s head and was getting tighter with everyday”. This shows that Fiela is not only very considerate and loving person, but above all a loving wife and a loving mother
Fiela is presented as a highly religious character in the novel as she often relates to the Bible and even keeps the important information such as the names of the family members and their birthdays in it. This shows that she trusts the Bible and relies highly on religion, as she even recites Biblical stories one of them being about two women who could not share a child. The fact that Fiela has a strong belief motivates her even more and gives her strength to cope with Benjamin’s departure that leaves her absolutely powerless in front of the law.
Despite living in an unjust and racist society, Fiela respects the law, as she refers to the government officials as “master” and never hesitates to show her respect for those above her. Due to the pressure from the government Fiela allows Benjamin to go to the magistrate in the village, as she feels powerless in front of the law, and fully trusts the it, which she believes, will settle the matter once and for all. Ironically though, the law is not very effective in determining who Benjamin real parents are, thus letting Fiela down despite her strong belief in the salvation of law and order.
As she stands broken in front of the magistrate, she cannot believe that God and the Law had betrayed her. She can do nothing but accept her fate, and the fact that Benjamin is now with his rightful parents. She says I quote: “There was nothing to be done, all had been agreed”. Although Benjamin and Fiela are separated Fiela still shows strong character as she insists on seeing the magistrate about her ordeal.
Barta Van Rooyen who lives in the thick forests of Knysna is brought in complete contrast to Fiela Komoetie. Although she does not often make appearance during the course of the novel, she can be considered as one of the most influential characters. We do not get to see the story from her point of view, and nor does the author present us with her stream of consciousness. Despite receiving almost no information about Barta’s character, judging her by her actions, we can clearly draw a line between her and Fiela.
Barta does not act as the head of the Van Rooyen family, and instead submits to the authority of Elias, as she allows herself to fall into the control of the husband. This is a vivid display of her weak character and low confidence, as she accepts the rules of the forest by following every command of her husband. She almost never tries to object to Elias’s decisions, and follows his orders.
This can be observed in the excerpt when she and Elias make their way through the forest to the magistrate, when Barta complains about pain in her legs but keeps on going due to the fact that she is under constant pressure from her husband saying: “you must hurry up Barta” and “come on Barta, come on”. Another example of this is when she tries to step in for Benjamin and stop Elias from beating him by saying “the magistrate might send the forester to come and check how he is getting on and there might be marks on him”, to what Elias replies that he is not planning to ask magistrates permission to perform his duty, thus leaving Barta completely powerless.
The Van Rooyen Family also live under harsh conditions in South Africa, but they belong to the forest, which provides them with shelter and food. The family profits from making and selling beams, which take a lot time and effort. Barta, as opposed to Fiela Komoetie does not engage in profitable work for the family, but instead keeps the household. The process of making and selling beams take place under Elias’s constant control, and Barta plays but a very little role in the family business. She lives according to the rules of the forest, and does not bring money into the family although others work hard to earn money.
In the first pages of the book Lukas Van Rooyen and Barta asks Elias: “have you seen Lukas?”. This shows that she does not take care of her children, later in the novel, when Lukas is back at the forest, Barta allows Elias to beat both Nina and Lukas with an ox rein and force them to work. Of course this is mainly due to the fact that she has the least say in the family and is also too weak to object to Elias’s will that is law in the Van Rooyen family.
Barta, just like Fiela also believes in the power of the law and order and I quote : “For Barta to appear before the magistrate was much the same as being called upon to appear before the Throne.” She is very worried after receiving the news about Lukas’s whereabouts, and when she is left to choose the right child, she points at Benjamin. Later she says: “ I took someone else’s child that day. I only found when it was too late.” This once again shows Bartas powerlessness and weakness due to her submission as a consequence of the tense situation that she is in.
A contrast that the author uses to differentiate Barta and Fiela is their impact on the life of the protagonist of the novel, Benjamin. Fiela almost “gives a life” to Benjamin and despite having a lot of obstacles in her way, she teaches him how to read and write. Barta however, claims to be his real mother, but in reality she simply creates confusion in Benjamin’s life, and sets him apart from his home. This is also reflected in the life of the two families, as the Komoeties breed ostriches, serving the nature, at a time when the Van Rooyens cut down trees and kill elephants for profit.
This is one of the major differences between her and Fiela, as Dalene Matthee tells Fiela’s story from almost second person, including relevant details, but this is not the case with the presentation of Barta. The author does not display her as a major character, although the impact that she has on the life of the protagonist of the novel is immense, because she is the one who chooses the wrong child amongst the others. This way the author underlines the role of the secondary characters such as Barta and the tall man with spectacles, who are responsible for all the chaos.
I think it is also very important to pay attention to what the two characters say. Barta, despite being in the house all the time, barely speaks, and this is mainly due to the fact that Elias subjugates her. Fiela on the other hand always speaks her mind and is ready to defend her own ideals and protest against injustice. This can been in her persistent attempt to face the magistrate as she tries to prove that I quote: “there must be some kind of a mistake. Benjamin has known no mother except Fiela Komoetie”. Here, she clearly protests against the decision of the magistrate, showing that she does not ever refrain from standing for what she believes in.
Although these two characters officially possess the status of a wife and a mother, the various events in their lives have forced them to take over a special role in the family. Fiela Komoetie is presented as a confident, stubborn, faithful and a forever-hopeful person. This is shown throughout the text, as she never gives up defending Bejamin, I quote : “ as a tigress defends her young”. She is also reliable and responsible for the survival of her family, showing her strong character and will.
On the other hand Barta Van Rooyen remains a ghost throughout the novel in the dark Knysna forest. She is a complacent and inconsiderate mother as she does not step in for her children, and constantly allows herself to be crushed by the authority of her husband. Daleene Matthee creates this constrast to underline the importance of faithfulness, hope and love for survival in one of the most troublesome times of South Africa.