Themes and message


The main theme explored by Alan Paton in the short story “Life for a Life” is racism. The story explores racism through its setting, characters, and plot. The story is set in South Africa during the apartheid regime, a system of racial segregation between the white and black populations.

The plot conflict that triggers the events is the death of a rich white master. Upon his death, the white community and authorities suspect that he must have been killed by a native employee. This shows that many white people were biased against blacks, assuming that the crime had been committed by a black person: “An event like this, the violent death of one of themselves, drew them together, in an instant, so that all the world might see that they were one…” (p. 9, ll.12-15); “Someone must pay for so terrible a crime, and if not the one who did it, then who better than the one who could not grieve.” (p. 10, ll. 30-32).

Racist white attitudes are mostly expressed through the master of Kroon and his son, Robbertse, and the police. While he was alive, the master refused to allow Enoch and Sara to receive their son, simply because the boy was attending university in Cape Town. This suggests that many white people were offended by black people trying to overcome their condition through education.

The son of the master does not believe that Enoch’s condolences are sincere, refuses ...

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