Fiela’s Child


Dalene Matthee

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Race and Identity Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Race and Identity Theme Icon
Parenting Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Nature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Fiela’s Child, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Race and Identity Theme Icon

Fiela’s Child centers around one young man’s struggle to figure out his identity. He wonders whether he’s truly Benjamin Komoetie, the adopted son of the “Coloured” (multiracial) farmer Fiela, or whether he is Lukas van Rooyen, the lost son of Elias and Barta who wandered off as a young child and was originally presumed dead. The novel takes place on the Western Cape of South Africa in the 1800s. Institutional racism and white supremacy are prevalent, with Afrikaners (the white descendants of Dutch settlers) having much more political, social, and economic power than the mixed race Coloured people of the area. Benjamin’s situation is unique—after spending his formative years with Coloured Komoetie family, a magistrate’s decision suddenly makes him part of the white van Rooyen family. Being white himself, Benjamin looks like the van Rooyens on the outside, yet the formative years he spent with Fiela as his mother continue to shape who he is on the inside.

When some census-takers stop by the Komoetie farm and happen to notice the white Benjamin there, they set in motion the series of events that will end with Benjamin being forced to live with his new family. Benjamin’s behavior disturbs many of the white people he meets along the way, particular his tendency to refer to them as “master” (a common form of address that Coloured people use when speaking to white people). Perhaps Benjamin’s behavior is so alarming to people like the census-takers and the magistrate because it challenges the very premise of a society based on racial segregation. If a white boy like Benjamin can learn to act “Coloured,” it suggests that racial differences may not be so rigid after all. The people at the magistrate’s office as well as Elias and Barta try to teach Benjamin to act as a white person ought to act, telling him to stop saying “master” and “missus” and to cut ties with his old adopted family for good. Rather than allowing Benjamin’s unique upbringing to challenge their preconceived ideas about white and Coloured, they instead try to force Benjamin to conform to their rigid ideas about race. And so, while Fiela’s Child shows the profound impact that a person’s race can have on their identity and ultimately on the course of their life, it also shows how race is partly a social construction—something that is taught and enforced rather than inherent.

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Race and Identity Quotes in Fiela’s Child

Below you will find the important quotes in Fiela’s Child related to the theme of Race and Identity.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Benjamin, Elias, Barta, The Magistrate, Lukas
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

‘Is this a church?’ he asked the tall one.

‘No. It’s a courtroom. Sit there on the bench and sit still.’

Related Characters: Benjamin (speaker), The Census-Takers (speaker), Fiela, The Magistrate
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

‘Will I still know him?’

Related Characters: Barta (speaker), Benjamin, Fiela, Elias, The Magistrate, Lukas
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

Petrus drove the wedding-cart himself and gave them five pounds as a start. It was a lot of money. But on the other hand, Petrus had been afraid that he would lose Selling for Selling had hear from a man by the name of Barrington near the Knysna River who was looking for a good harness-maker.

Related Characters: Fiela, Selling, Petrus, Kies Laghaan
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

‘He’s the forest woman’s child.’

Related Characters: Fiela (speaker), Benjamin, Barta, The Magistrate, Lukas
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

‘I’m your pa! That’s who I am! Say it! Say who I am!’ He was as tough as a piece of ironwood. ‘Say who I am!’



For every answer he gave him a lash. ‘And who are you?’

‘Benja— Lukas.’

‘Lukas who?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Lukas van Rooyen. Say it!’

‘Lukas van Rooyen.’

Related Characters: Benjamin (speaker), Elias (speaker), Fiela, Barta, Nina, The Magistrate, Lukas, Willem, Kristoffel
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

‘The child is back with his rightful parents,’ he said and it seemed as if his jaw had grown stiff. ‘What he had on the day he got lost can make no difference. You can put anything on him now and swear by it in the hope that I will believe you.’

Related Characters: The Magistrate (speaker), Benjamin, Fiela, Elias, Barta, Lukas
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

In fact Petrus did not come riding up the Kloof until late on Thursday. Alone. A sugar-cake was waiting on the kitchen table.

Related Characters: Benjamin, Fiela, The Magistrate, Selling, Petrus
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

The year moved slowly. Christmas came. New Year. And as he grew out of Benjamin Komoetie, he also grew out of his cloths and had to wear Willem’s old trousers and a shirt of his pa’s.

Related Characters: Benjamin, Elias, Lukas, Willem
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

She had to give up Benjamin to the forest people, Dawid to the grave. There was little difference in the bitterness within her. The question she put to God was the same: Why, God, why?

Related Characters: Benjamin, Fiela, The Magistrate, Selling, Dawid
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

‘Go home and tell pa I’m not coming back. I’m finished with the Forest.’

Related Characters: Benjamin (speaker), Elias, Elias, Barta, Nina, Lukas
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

He was shocked and guilt-ridden. For a moment, his body had forgotten that she was his sister.

Related Characters: Benjamin, Nina, Mr. Benn, Lukas
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 29 Quotes

The one wearing the blue shirt.

Related Characters: The Census-Takers (speaker), Benjamin, Elias, Barta, Lukas
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

The pilot pulled the needle through the thick white cloth. Somewhere in his beard a smile seemed to be lingering. ‘Of course,’ he said.

Related Characters: Mr. Benn (speaker), Benjamin, Fiela, Nina, Lukas
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis: