Published in 1961, the short story “Life for a Life” by Alan Paton was probably meant to be read as contemporary to the time of publishing. The events are set in South Africa during the apartheid regime, as indicated by South African words such as “Kroon” (p. 9, l. 7), “predikant” (p. 10, l. 1), “Baas” (p. 10, l. 7), and “Kleinbooi” (p. 12, l. 8).
The main events span over a couple of days, starting with the killing of the white master and ending with Sara’s eviction after the death of her husband, the head-shepherd Enoch Maarman.
The story takes place in the physical setting of a South African Kroon, a farm usually owned by a white person. On the property, the white family lives in a “big house” (p. 10, l. 4) while the black employees live in “small stone houses” (p. 9, l. 17).
Part of the action takes place in Enoch’s small house, a part takes place in the big house, and another part of the action takes place at the local police station. For example, the story describes the mourning rituals in the big house: “…after a while the sound of the slow determined singing was carried across the valley…” (p. 10, l. 9-10); “On the other side of the valley the big house was awake, for this was the day that Big Baas Flip would be laid to rest, under the cypress trees of the graveyard in the stones.” (p. 18, ll. 6-9).
The sun and the valley that separates the big house from the small house have a symbolical function. The valley is symbolical of the separation and discrimination between whites and blacks. The sun is symbolic of endings, such as Enoch’s and the master’s death or the end of Sara’s time living in the Kroon: “The sun was sinking in the sky over the hills of Kroon.” (p. 17, ll. 29-30); “The sun was rising over the hills of Kroon.” (p. 18, ll. 4-5).
The story is focused on conveying aspects of the social setting, related to the life of South Africans during t...