Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Ruth in Marlene Van Niekerk's Agaat

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Ruth in Marlene Van Niekerk's Agaat

Article excerpt


Marlene van Niekerk's Agaat (2006), which was translated from the Afrikaans into English by Michiel Heyns, examines the relationship between a dying white woman and her Coloured carer. In the course of the novel it becomes clear that the themes of (post)colonialism, race relations and gender dynamics are being explored; however, the means through which they are conveyed are through the complicated, distressing and moving relationship between the two protagonists, which exemplifies the relationship between white Afrikaners in particular (and by extension whites generally in South Africa) and Coloureds in particular (and by extension the racial other). Religion is a crucial aspect of the changing dynamics between these two representative characters. In this paper I examine the striking parallels between the novel and the Book of Ruth, particularly with regard to the relationship between the two female protagonists. I analyse van Niekerk's critique of supremacist religion, especially during apartheid, and her representation of the necessity for ruth, or compassion, in contemporary South Africa. I employ concepts raised by a number of feminist postcolonialist scholars of theology to illustrate the radical nature of van Niekerk's representation of religion and spirituality in the novel. In particular, I examine the implications of applying Marcella Althaus-Reid's controversial concept of the Bi/Christ to the text.


Marlene van Niekerk se Agaat (2006), wat deur Michiel Heyns uit Afrikaans in Engels vertaal is, beskou die verhouding tussen 'n sterwende wit vrou en haar kleudingoppasser. Deur die vedoop van die roman word dit duidelik dat die temas van (post)kolonialisme, rasseverhoudinge en geslagsdinamika verken word; die manier waarop dit oorgedra word is egter deur middel van die gekompliseerde, onrusbarende en aandoenlike verhouding tussen die twee protagoniste, wat veral die verhouding tussen wit Afrikaners (en in 'n uitgebreide sin dus ook wittes in Suid-Afrika in die algemeen) en kleudinge (en in 'n uitgebreide sin dus ook die rasseander) beliggaam. Godsdiens is 'n kritieke aspek van die veranderende dinamika tussen hierdie twee verteenwoordigende karakters. In hierdie artikel beskou ek die treffende parallelle tussen die roman en die Bybelboek Rut, veral met betrekking tot die verhouding tussen die twee vroulike protagoniste. Ek analiseer Van Niekerk se kritiek van heerssugtige godsdiens, veral tydens apartheid, en haar uitbeelding van die noodsaaklikheid van weemoed, of medelye, in kontemporere Suid-Afrika. Ek gebruik konsepte wat deur 'n aantal feministiese postkolonialistiese teologiekenners aangevoer word om die radikale aard van Van Niekerk se uitbeelding van godsdiens en spiritualiteit in die roman te illustreer. Ek ondersoek veral die implikasies van die toepassing van Marcella Althaus-Reid se kontroversiele konsep van die Bi/Christus op die teks.

1 "Analyses of the Sacred"

A flurry of correspondence polarised around the existence of God, as denied by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (2006), recently appeared in Pietermaritzburg's local newspaper. The tone of most of these letters to the editor was heated, with each side accusing the other of ignorance, intolerance and disrespect. The most interesting contribution to this debate was an article by a retired Head of the Unilever Ethics Centre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Martin Prozesky. In this piece Prozesky wrote two letters to imaginary interlocutors, one an agnostic and a rationalist, the other a fervent believer who had responded from a fixed position to The God Delusion. In each of his replies Prozesky (a Christian believer himself) adopted the midground between the polar extremes posited, arguing that the book, while flawed, provided stimulating food for thought (2007: 11). Significantly, Prozesky used fiction, from more than one perspective, to respond to a critique of religion. …

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