But I’ll get them, I’m telling you, I’ll get them for it!
Elias van Royeen is referring here to the elephants, on whom he wishes to take vengeance after they almost trample him to death. This quote embodies Elias' sense of bitterness; he feels like a broken man. It is not the elephants' actions that have caused this frustration, however: throughout the story, we see that he is paranoid, with his head full of ideas that the elephants want to kill him, that the other villagers want him to fail, and that the woodcutters mock him behind his back. Upon returning from this unsuccessful quest to trap the elephants, he can only unleash his anger on his own family. To “get them” is his main goal, the need for revenge overwhelming and undoing him.
God forgives many things, but God never forgives us the wrong we do to a child.
This powerful line comes when Fiela confronts the magistrate after walking for two days to Knysna in order to find Benjamin. The magistrate's refusal to give Fiela a chance to see the boy angers and upsets her, and her fierce nature drives her to always fight what she believes to be unjust. Her invocation of God and morality reflects her strong religious principles, of which the protection of children is paramount. Her challenging of the magistrate is courageous not only because she is refusing to submit in front of a white figure of authority but also because she is also putting into question his own ethics.
Why are you all brown and I am white?
Benjamin's question comes after the census men first visit and he observes his mother's worry that they might take him away. It marks the loss of innocence when, at the age of12, he finally becomes consciously aware that he is not the same as the rest of his family. When Benjamin asks Fiela about why he is white, she can only tell him the truth: that Benjamin is the "hand-child," or the adopted child who is not of the same blood as the others. But she also assures him not to question “the good Lord’s work.” It is Fiela's nature to discourage bigotry and to protect Benjamin from the dangerous prejudices that seem to produce only quarrels between people of different races. Most important to her is that Benjamin feels like a Komoetie.
He called me missus, Ebenezer, it’s too terrible. Like a Coloured.
This line—spoken by the wife of Ebenezer, the census man who took Benjamin from the Long Kloof—expresses the normality of racism in 19th-century South Africa. The wife is shocked that Benjamin, a white child, has referred to her with the same terminology as a black person would do. This not only surprises her but also makes her pity Benjamin, as she and many others believe that life in a black family is inherently inferior. The irony, of course, is that Benjamin is much happier in the Komoetie home than with the van Rooyens and eventually makes his own decision to return there to live.
Get your hands to work, Selling, none of us can understand it.
Here, Fiela is addressing her husband Selling after it has become clear that Benjamin will not be returning to the Long Kloof anytime soon. They, along with the other children, feel desperate and defeated to lose Benjamin in a very unjust manner. However, Fiela, who occupies the role of leadership in their family, believes that they cannot possibly let go of their responsibilities in the face of this tragedy. Even though internally she also feels the same sorrow as Selling, she is repeatedly portrayed as being the stronger one who is able to momentarily put aside her feelings to attend to practical matters. Her ordering Selling to work demonstrates her fierce nature as well as her tendency to sometimes become harsh with others as a way to buffer herself from her own pain.
To hear, after nine years, that they had found a child that might be yours, was not news that you could take lightly. And if it was the child they had found, only the Lord in Heaven could know how he had got over the mountain to the Long Kloof.
This is Elias van Rooyen’s internal reaction to receiving the news about Lukas potentially having been discovered. His thoughts here display his sense of amazement that Lukas not only is alive after so many years but also that he has been found in the Long Kloof, which is so far from the forest that he, as an adult, regards it as a perilous journey. His doubts show us that it is not only Fiela who decries the possibility of Benjamin being Lukas but even Lukas’ father, thus casting a suspicion that endures throughout the story.
Perhaps he had been in the Forest too long. Perhaps it was the immensity of space around him that made his mind reel.
This thought of Benjamin’s takes place when he first visits the sea to see the ghost ship. Here, in an entirely different landscape from both the forest and the Long Kloof, he receives new inspiration and insight. Finally on his own, as neither a Komoetie or a van Rooyen, he has the space, both literal and psychic, to reflect upon who he has become and what he actually wants. His witnessing of a shooting star underscores how this is a miraculous turning point in Benjamin’s life to break away from the old and choose his own destiny.
I’m glad pa’s not well. Perhaps he’ll die.
This quote that Nina speaks to Benjamin may appear harsh and shocking. Yet, knowing the context, it is clear that Nina's anger towards her father and wish for him to die come in response to her sense of being stifled at home. Nina's free-spirited nature and love of exploring the woods—normal sentiments for a child—are constantly challenged and suppressed by her father. In her desperate situation, the thought of her father not being well thus comes as a relief: perhaps it means he will no longer be able to control her every move.
What is it that is troubling you? You’re young, but your eyes are old.
John Benn, the captain of the pilot ship for whom Benjamin hopes to work, confronts the boy and asks him to express his feelings. This is at the time when Benjamin is grappling with his identity, beginning to suspect that he is not truly Lukas van Rooyen but not yet knowing for sure, and this uncertainty makes him feel utterly lost in the world. John Benn is portrayed in one sense to be a gruff kind of man, yet here we see him in a more caring light. Benn’s astute observation of his old eyes speaks to the fact that Benjamin has lived through circumstances that many never experience and which have robbed him of his sense of youthful optimism.
An ostrich took a mate for life. It was their nature. Why try and mess up nature? Was the new prosperity not enough for them? …Where would it end?
Fiela reflects on the recent trend in the Long Kloof of people breeding ostriches in order to sell their highly valuable feathers. She was one of the first to breed ostriches for this purpose, yet here she makes a distinction between two different ways of relating to these birds. Fiela takes what is fair and in balance with the natural harmony, never going against the ostriches’ normal tendency for monogamy. This is because she respects her animals as sentient beings and, as a religious woman, believes it is immoral to abuse nature for profit. Other people, however, mate their male ostriches with multiple females in order to yield more chicks and thus more feathers. Fiela looks down on this and worries about how such selfish behavior will affect the Long Kloof as a community.
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.