Plomer's portrayal of the family in relation to a hegemonic ideology

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation examines how ideology is constituted in texts, and how colonial texts generally support the hegemonic ideology, that is, they offer a point of view which is racialistic and a picture of blacks which is patronizing and denigratory. With regard to the colonial white population, colonial texts generally portray a strongly patriarchal, often authoritarian societal structure. William Plomer writes within the liberal tradition and therefore seeks to undermine the dominant ideology. He shows how contradictory the colonial attitude to the natives is and how the 'civilising' mission often runs counter to the colonial desire for the ease and luxury which require a subject and 'uncivilised' population. The dissertation looks particularly at the portrayal of family life in Plomer's South African short stories and in Turbott Wolfe. It sees that society limits the range of what the author can invent, that the author in many cases 'encounters the solution' (Macherey), and Plomer seems unable to present a work in which a couple of mixed race is able to find a role in society. In the short stories, Plomer portrays families as weak entities, with married people often yearning for partners of a different racial group. Marriage is shown to be undermined by the racialistic and authoritarian strictures placed upon it. In Turbott Wolfe, Plomer portrays several bigoted and vicious white families with the men having secret liaisons with black women and seldom acknowledging their progeny. The only couple of mixed race, seems to operate in a social vacuum and has symbolic value only. Plomer thus presents a society and a familial structure undermined by the very restrictions which are designed to safeguard them.

Bibliography: pages 67-68.