The Lemon Orchard

How does La Guma make us feel sympathy for the colored man from: “The colored man said nothing, but stared ahead of himself”… to “He straightened up and looked away from them.”

Throughout the excerpt from The Lemon Orchard, Alex La Guma makes use of language as well as structure to bring across the vast discrepancy of racial rights, invoking sympathy in readers for the black man.

The use of dialogue reflects the hypocritical nature of the white men in the story. The leader says: “He is a slim hotnot; one of those educated bushmen.” Firstly, his use of Afrikaans Dutch slang (‘hotnot’) and the crudeness of his language reflect how uneducated and rough he is. It is rather ironical, as during the apartheid, the whites believed that Negroes shouldn’t be educated. They thought the Negroes were subservient- educating them was considered dangerous and against nature, reflecting the hegemonic supremacy of the whites. The injustice of this arouses anger in the readers, making us feel sympathy for the black man. The juxtaposition of his words ‘educated bushmen’ also arouses a sense of conflict in the readers, and makes us feel as if something is blatantly wrong. How can a bushman be educated? It is evident that the white man is being harsh, judgmental, and hypocritical- making us sympathize all the more with the black man.

Imagery plays a pivotal role in creating the atmosphere of the story, which feeds into the reader’s understanding of the situation, facilitating our sympathy for the colored man. La Guma writes: ‘his eyes were hard and blue like two frozen lakes’, a simile that reflects the cruelty and unforgiving nature of the white leader. Eyes are often described as windows to the soul, and in this case the leader’s soul were ‘two frozen lakes’, triggering pejorative connotations of the brutal, unyielding, and merciless cold. It creates tension and suspense- we know that the leader is ruthless and will not stop at anything to hurt the colored man. This invokes fear in the readers and a strong sympathy for the black man.

The fact that all the characters in the story are unnamed creates an atmosphere of threat and mystery. The white men aren’t named- perhaps reflecting their fear of being caught and their cowardice, showing that what is about to transpire is wrong. It is also rather ironical as they accuse the colored man of being cowardly, but he is in fact more self-assured and confident that he is suffering for a worthwhile cause. The black man earns the respect and sympathy of the readers. Also, the lack of naming allows readers to judge them for themselves, putting the characters on an equal footing. We end up sympathizing with the black man indicating the prevalent injustice and assuring that equality should be advocated. On the other hand, however, the lack of naming could reduce the men to their races, so there is a clear racial segregation, showing the vast racial disharmony of the apartheid. Also, the unnamed characters makes the events that transpired more general- the brutal disrespect and unfortunate event is not an isolated incident, but rather an allegory of the vast world of mistreated Negroes out there. The lack of naming clearly brings out the racial discrepancy in more ways than one, making us sympathize with the black man for his fate.

Through the use of different literary techniques, La Guma highlights the harsh realities of racial segregation and invokes sympathy for the black man.


8 responses to “The Lemon Orchard

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