Throughout Fiela’s Child, many of the characters struggle against their natural environment, with some characters trying to live in harmony with nature and others trying to dominate it. The most hostile character toward nature is Elias, for whom nature is little more than a way for him to get rich, and he shows no regard for the natural environment as he dreams up schemes to make himself wealthier. While his wood-beam making work hints at an aggressive relationship with the Forest, what really defines Elias’s relationship to nature is his unceasing quest to try to obtain the tusks of an elephant. While Elias sees proof that elephants act as families and are capable of outsmarting him, he nevertheless schemes to set a trap to kill one, all so that he can buy a gun to kill more elephants and make even more money. Elias’s hostile attitude toward nature leads nature to strike back, with aggressive elephants chasing after Elias and even seriously wounding him on one occasion, ultimately limiting his ability to wander around freely in the Forest. By contrast, his daughter Nina appreciates the trees and creeks of the Forest, spending her free time exploring them; in return, the Forest provides her with solace, sparing her of elephant attacks and giving her a place to temporarily escape the demands of her family and her work.
Most characters have a relationship with nature that falls somewhere between the two extremes of the nature-hating Elias and the nature-loving Nina. Fiela, for example, tries to be a good steward of her land at Wolwekraal, keeping her animals well cared for, but she also frequently experiences frustration, like when her ostriches Kicker and Pollie refuse to mate with each other at first. Similarly, as a pilot, Mr. Benn watches over the ships that enter the rocky waters near the head of the Knysna river, a tricky job that requires patience and a keen knowledge of weather conditions. Both Fiela and Mr. Benn try to make the best of harsh conditions, exerting some force over nature, but also being flexible and respecting nature’s unpredictability. As Fiela’s Child attests, humanity and nature will often be in conflict, but with patience and humility, humans can learn to overcome nature’s challenges and perhaps even reach a state of harmony with the natural world.
Humanity vs. Nature ThemeTracker
Humanity vs. Nature Quotes in Fiela’s Child
The day the child disappeared the fog came up early and by midday it seemed as if the Forest was covered in a thick white cloud.
Only in retrospect did Fiela take account of the omens—she did not recognize them at first. […] Omens that should have warned her, but her mind was on the ostrich and she did not heed the warnings.
‘When the bigfeet are on you, you can’t choose what you let go of and what you want to keep, woman!’
‘You’re making a mistake, Fiela, wait another week or two.’
‘No. I’ve kept them apart long enough, I had them out at pasture for weeks, I’ve put paraffin into their ears so that there wouldn’t be a single tick to worry them, I’ve let Kicker starve—I’m not waiting any longer.’
It was late when they got home. His mother took one look at the egg, took down the strap from behind the door and beat their backsides well for them.
The next day she baked a sugar-cake with the egg.
‘What are bigfeet?’
‘Don’t you know? The animals with the trunks, elephants,’ she whispered. ‘You’re not supposed to say the name out loud, they’ll hear you and think you’ve called them and come and trample you.’
A snare-pit. That was what he had to have, he sat thinking that Sunday. The sheer prospect of it brough a funny feeling to Elias’s stomach for if it worked once, it would work again if you were clever enough
‘Pa is a dirty swine.’ Just that.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘It was a trap. An elephant trap.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I went there. There’s a dead elephant calf lying in the pit.’
‘I am an oarsman too. But I can’t live on what John Benn’s paying. I make a bit of extra on my own. I had to get rid of some of my customers because I only have two hands.’