How is religion portrayed in Fiela's Child?
A Christian perspective pervades Fiela’s Child. Fiela often prays in times of trouble and talks to God through her inner monologue. After Benjamin is taken, Fiela undergoes a momentary crisis of faith as she feels that God has abandoned her. At one point, in order to make sense of the situation, she instructs her family to read the Bible and find the passage in Kings where two women fight over a child. In contrast, the van Rooyen family is not presented as religious. This lack of faith is especially interesting considering that Christianity was the common social glue of that time period. That Fiela and Selling are portrayed as the more loving and humane parents while Elias and Barta are cruel and often despondent leads us to conclude that Dalene Matthee the novel conceives of piety as a central part of being a good person as well as essential for surmounting life's challenges.
What is the novel's message regarding the role of race in defining one's identity?
Despite being white, Benjamin struggles greatly to integrate into the white van Rooyen family, initially calling his father “master” and behaving like a "Coloured." After years spent in the forest, he can only pretend to be a van Rooyen; his heart is still with the Komoeties. The surrounding characters, such as the magistrate, find it difficult to believe that a white boy could get along so well in a black family, seeing the two races as occupying separate worlds. Yet Benjamin's ultimate decision to leave behind his role as Lukas van Rooyen and return to the Komoetie home sends a clear message that our identity is independent of our race and is open to self-definition. It is the love and joy that Benjamin experienced at Wolwekraal that brings him back there; the difference of race is of least concern.
What is one way in which Dalene Matthee contrasts the two families of Fiela’s Child?
There are two main families within the novel, the Komoeties and the van Rooyens, which are shown to be different in many ways. One essential way is their contrasting attitudes towards nature. Both families are faced with the often harsh climate conditions of South Africa (droughts, food shortages, intense fog), but they approach this challenge distinctly. The Komoeties make a living through rearing ostriches and tapping aloe for money. To them, plants and animals are important and part of the symbiotic relationship between man and his environment; they take from nature what they need but never more, trying to find creative solutions when money is tight. But the van Rooyen family demonstrates a more destructive side of humanity, as seen in Elias' killing of elephants and cutting down of trees to be used as timber. Matthee uses the eventual disintegration of the van Rooyen family to suggest how one's attitude towards nature reverberates within all of his relationships.
Why might Dalene Matthee have chosen to narrate this story through various characters’ viewpoints rather than through a singular narrator’s perspective?
This narrative choice allows the reader to understand the characters deeply in what is a very complex situation. By getting an intimate look into the lives of both Komoeties and van Rooyens, we are unable to “take sides” or see any particular character in a one-sided way. For example, despite Elias’ undeniable cruelty and role as an antagonist, we also see through his eyes an aspect of him vying for survival and meeting his family’s needs. The particular emphasis on the perspectives of Benjamin and Fiela also results in the reader being left in suspense about the boy’s true identity, finding out only when they do about Barta’s lie. This allows us to better empathize with the sense of confusion and despair of not knowing who Benjamin really is.
How does Nina help Benjamin to discover his true identity?
Nina helps Benjamin in various ways. First of all, her free-spirited and kind nature are a source of solace for Benjamin while living in the forest, where he feels alienated from all of the other van Rooyens. That she puts so much value on her freedom also plants the seed for Benjamin to later rebel against Elias and find the courage to break away from the forest lifestyle. Furthermore, Nina indirectly inspires Benjamin through her beauty and charm, which lead him to develop a crush on her. Feeling appalled that he could ever have such feelings for his sister, Benjamin is impelled to find out once and for all if he is actually a van Rooyen, leading ultimately to Barta’s confession that he is indeed not. As psychologically difficult as this experience may have been, his crush on Nina is actually what helps liberate Benjamin and allows him to uncover the truth.