The Lemon Orchard by Alex la Guma
In The Lemon Orchard by Alex la Guma we have the theme of racism, discrimination, hierarchy and injustice. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that la Guma may be exploring the theme of racism and discrimination. The coloured man who is described by his captor’s as being a ‘hotnot’ (coloured person) is being led through the lemon orchard by a group of white men. His hands are bound and for part of the story he has the muzzle of a shotgun against his back. His only crime was to have an argument or indifference with the local church minister. Which suggests that there is a hierarchy occurring and the coloured man is at the lower end of the scale due to his skin colour. It might also be important to mention that the story is set during the apartheid era in South Africa. When black people did not have the same rights as white people. They were treated as being inferior. There is also no doubting that there is an injustice occurring. The coloured man who is a qualified teacher is being treated improperly solely based on the colour of his skin. The reader does not imagine that should a white person of had an indifference with the church minister that they too would incur the same difficulties that the coloured man is incurring. It is also noticeable that the coloured man tries his best not to show fear to his captors. He is a proud man who knows that what is happening to him is not only unjust but again is based solely on the colour of his skin. It may also be symbolically important that the coloured man is educated yet we know of no education for the group of white men. La Guma may be suggesting that the four white men are uneducated when it comes to their actions. Though yet they are still responsible.
The fact that the clouds are described as being like ‘dirty cotton wool’ may also be significant as La Guma may be symbolically suggesting that what is about to happen the coloured man is something that is not right. Clouds are usually described as being white and in literature white is often used to symbolise innocence and beauty. By having the clouds dirty la Guma may be suggesting that nature is tainted in some way. The leader of the group of men is also an interesting character as the reader is left in little doubt that he is capable of killing a man. Even so the coloured man remains dignified throughout the story showing as mentioned no fear. It is possible that la Guma is highlighting the strength that some individuals of colour had when faced with adversity. If anything the real coward in the story is the leader of the group of white men. He relies on his shotgun to enforce his will on the coloured man.
There is also further symbolism in the story which may be important. The moon is mentioned on several occasions. Firstly it is described as being ‘hidden’. Later on in the story there is moonlight which suggests that the moon is showing itself in the sky. It is possible that by hiding the moonlight at the beginning of the story la Guma is symbolically suggesting that people hid themselves away when it came to racism in South Africa. Nobody (who was white) stood up. Similarly when the moon appears at the end of the story what is to happen the coloured man is something that is known and witnessed by all. Not only by the perpetrators. The crickets too may be symbolic of human nature. Those that are near the white men who are holding the coloured man prisoner are described as having ‘stopped their small noises.’ While further away those not near the men are continuing to creek. It may be a case that la Guma is suggesting that the crickets (as human nature) that are far away are turning a blind eye to what is occurring. While those that are near the men are waiting to see what will happen. Possibly in support of the men.
The ending of the story is also interesting. Though the reader can’t say for sure if the coloured man is killed. La Guma does use language to suggest that something is going to happen that will result in either injury or death to the coloured man. Words like ‘angled branches’ ‘tips and edges’ shine’ suggest that possibly knives will be used to harm the coloured man. Whose only crime is to have had an argument with a white church minister. Even if the coloured man is not killed he will most likely be scarred for life. Not only because he is about to be attacked by the group of white men but physically his body will show the marks of the knives. If anything the coloured man will be an example to other coloured or black men. That there is a hierarchy in South Africa (at the time the story was written), with white people being at the top of the hierarchy. A coloured person no matter how well they might have been educated was to be treated as a second class citizen who did not have the same rights as white people.