Fiela’s Child


Dalene Matthee

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Fiela’s Child can help.

Fiela’s Child: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

On April 2, 1881, Fiela buries Dawid at Wolwekraal. Petrus comes up to make a speech at the funeral—Dawid was so popular in the community that both white and “Coloured” mourners attend. It’s been seven years since Fiela had to give up Benjamin, and Dawid helped her through much of that period. She now has 12 ostriches for breeding (six males, six females), but she feels that this is nothing compared to what she’s had to suffer by losing two children. She also managed to buy the property that the nearby Laghaan family used to rent, allowing them to stay but warning them that she can kick them out.
Dawid’s death comes as a total surprise and shows how despite all of Fiela’s efforts to provide a stable home for her children, Long Kloof is ultimately an unpredictable and at times brutal place to live. The 12 ostriches on Fiela’s property suggest that a substantial amount of time has passed since the last chapter to focus on Fiela. The ostriches also show the success of Fiela’s nurturing attitude, both as a parent and as a steward of her land, which contrasts with Elias’s more destructive style.
Parenting Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Nature Theme Icon
Dawid loved the land while he was alive. Fiela’s other children have done their own things, with Kittie marrying a preacher, and Emma having a child and hoping to get married soon. In the present, Fiela decides she must get news to Benjamin about Dawid’s death, ideally for him to make the funeral but at least so he can visit the grave at some point.
This passage shows the limits of Fiela’s abilities as a parent. While she succeeds in helping her children to become independent, she can’t decide what they do with that independence. The fate of the different children also hints at gender roles, with Dawid sticking with the land, but the female Kittie and Emma (who as women won’t inherit the land) drift away to become part of different families.
Parenting Theme Icon
Dawid used to believe Benjamin would come back one day, even when Fiela herself had doubts. At Dawid’s funeral, Fiela thinks back to the time when Fiela and Dawid went all the way into the Forest to see Benjamin but ended up having to just leave his things with the family because Benjamin was away. She wonders if the funeral will bring Benjamin back—he'd be about 20 by this time and would have spent many years as a woodcutter.
This passage asks questions about the nature of identity, such as whether Benjamin’s many years away as a woodcutter among a white family are enough to “erase” the time he spent as an adopted member of a Coloured family. Dawid’s faith in Benjamin perhaps recalls the optimism of his father Selling, whereas Fiela remains a little more cynical (despite her strong religious faith).
Race and Identity Theme Icon
Parenting Theme Icon