When Fiela goes to beg the magistrate to see Benjamin again, she keeps in mind the accepted conduct for a black woman like herself when speaking to a white man of power. Before she leaves for Knysna, Selling advises her to be docile in front of the magistrate so that he will give her a chance to speak. He compares this submission to "slithering like a snake." Fiela believes that her husband is right on some level, yet as she approaches the village, she inwardly rebels against this guidance, feeling that she will do whatever it takes to get her son back, even if it means upsetting a supposed authority by "striking [at him] like a snake whose spine has been crushed."
Simile: The Sea Like a Mythical Beast
Matthee repeatedly uses figurative language in order to compare the sea to a life-giving force, which helps to clarify Benjamin's self-identity. Benjamin has long felt trapped and like he has no idea who he is while living with the van Rooyens, learning to accept the life of a beam-maker though he is somewhat miserable doing so. Yet, during his first contact with the sea, the uncertainty of who he truly is fades away. He relinquishes his confusion at the moment when he faces the sea and feels "like he was standing in the jaws of a mythical beast." This simile works to show the sea as an almost conscious entity that captivates Benjamin and redirects his life almost instantaneously, prompting him to take bold steps such as leaving the van Rooyens for good.
Metaphor: The Mountains as Divine Punishment
From the beginning of the story, the mountains that surround the Long Kloof are associated with suffering and hardship. During the drought, Fiela reflects that “it was as if the heat on the Kloof side of the mountains would not allow even a shred of mist to come over and give a little relief from the heat. Why it had pleased the good Lord to put a mountain between the Kloof and relief, God alone knew.” Thus she compares the poor climate conditions to a punishment, or at least neglect, from God. Later, Fiela refers to one section of the mountains called Devil's Kop, joking that "the devil himself could not have chosen a better place to give his name to." That she has to trek through these mountains many times in order to search for Benjamin or visit Selling while he is doing prison time drives home their association with tough circumstances. At the same time, her ability to cross the mountains to reach Knysna also shows the human potential to conquer both inner and outer mountains through perseverance.
Metaphor: Fiela's Worry as a Physical Burden
After the census men come and threaten to take Benjamin, Fiela spends the following weeks and months under great anxiety, racking her mind to figure out how she can possibly avoid her son being stolen from her. As time passes though and the men don't return, the burden lessens. Her worry is likened to a "stone" that gets lighter and lighter. Throughout the story, we see Fiela's tendency to carry the troubles of her entire family, which disrupts her normal ability to work and think clearly. Of course, when the men abruptly do come back to Wolwekraal, that stone also returns, this time as a "mountain [she] could not move."
Simile: Benjamin's Entrapment as Being Buried Alive
After Benjamin has been at the van Rooyen's house for 41 days, he gives up on the hope that his mother, Fiela, will ever come to rescue him. He must accept his new scenario, as much he dislikes it, because he has no power to change it. He now is reminded of his old childhood fear of being buried alive, describing his current sense of helplessness "as if he was lying squeezed into a coffin and nobody could hear him knocking." He is neither able to communicate with the Komoeties nor be understood in his emotional despair by the van Rooyens, thus explaining his feeling of being unheard.
Fiela’s Child Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fiela’s Child is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.