What does the novel teach us about the way in which sexual abuse is allowed to continue?
Throughout the novel, Marnus tells the reader that Frikke is very afraid of his father, but does not say why. The reader assumes that it is because of his father's authoritarian demeanor, or indeed, even his sheer physical size. However, this fear does not prevent Frikke from coming to the Erasmus' home several times a week and sleeping over whenever he is allowed to. When we discover that Marnus' father is abusing Frikke sexually (it is unclear whether or not the rape at the end of the novel is the first time it happened, or if it has been happening before), it becomes clear that Frikke has never told an adult about the abuse, and that is likely partly shame but mostly because he fears he will not be believed; Marnus' father is a pillar of the community and very highly respected, so it would seem unlikely that any adult would take Frikke's claims seriously. When Marnus himself discovers the abuse, he momentarily hates his father, but not so much for abusing Frikke but for the fact that Marnus has found out about what is going on. When he realizes that Frikke is not going to tell him what has been happening, or mention the abuse in any way, he is very relieved because it means that he does not have to continue to hate his father, or face what he has done; he can sweep it under the rug and continue to do all of the things with his parents that he loves to do, and also continue to try and impress his dad even though he now knows what he is really like. In this way, when neither the victim nor any witnesses actually say anything, abuse is enabled.
Is the relationship between Marnus' parents an abusive one?
The relationship between Marnus' parents is definitely abusive, although not physically. Marnus' mother is not allowed to have any opinions of her own, and in fact when this is pointed out by her sister, her sister is banned from the house. The fact that she is "allowed" or "not allowed" is itself a sign that Marnus' father believes he has seniority and authority over his wife. She is not allowed to have jazz music in the home, and plays it in her car when her husband is not with her. This indicates that not only is she scared to do something he has made plain he does not want her to do, but that she is also aware that the demand is wrong, and by playing the music in her car she is able to feel as though she is still making her own decisions. Any relationship in which one partner is frightened of the other cannot be considered anything but abusive. Marnus tells the reader that his father is proud of the fact that he never physically disciplines his children and can elicit the behavior he wants from them just by his tone of voice or a certain look. He also extends this to his wife. Although she is not physically abused, Marnus' mother is definitely emotionally abused.
What are some of the things that Marnus and his sister are told about black Africans that enables Apartheid to persist through the generations?
The children of Marnus' generation are almost brainwashed by a racist government into believing that black people are a different species entirely (Marnus tells the reader that their blood is different). His mother tells him that the black people who work for them cannot be trusted even when they are treated as family and that they will betray you. She has no proof for this but Marnus of course believes her. In decades gone by there was a legitimate threat to the safety of the whites in neighboring Tanzania as guerrilla soldiers would murder people in their homes and take their land over—this is how Marnus' grandparents lost their farm and came to live with them outside Cape Town. The fear of this happening again has been drummed into the children of Marnus' generation. Another myth that Marnus accepts as the truth is that all of the smart black Africans have been shipped to America, and only the really stupid ones are left. This opinion means that instead of taking each person on individual merits he dismisses all of the coloreds in the neighborhood. As these bigoted views are passed down through the generations the children like Marnus do not question anything that they are told because it has been indoctrinated in them, enabling the process of Apartheid to continue.
What is the significance of the character of Jan?
Jan is a Coloured fisherman with whom Marnus is friendly. In fact, Marnus' relationship with Jan is one of the most positive relationships between a white person and a Coloured person in the text, but it is sadly overwhelmed by all of Marnus' more racist relationships. Jan speaks of how things have changed since the Europeans came, particularly in regards to whales and other sea life. Jan is important in contrast to Johan, as Cheryl Stobie points out: "Jan Bandjies, instead of forcing his sons to follow unquestioningly in his footsteps (as Dad coerces Marnus to do), encourages them to look for alternative forms of employment as a result of commercial fishing having depleted the ocean of its natural riches."
What does Marnus means when he says, "the arrival of the visitor cannot be divorced from what preceded his coming. To understand my own choice, I need to muster as much as the detail as possible?" (31)
This is an enigmatic statement from the older Marnus and there's no clear answer to it in the text. What seems most likely is that this "choice" is a reference to his keeping quiet after what he observes his father doing to Frikkie. He experiences anger and pushes back against his father when he refuses to let him pin the epaulettes on him, but Marnus eventually gives in to his father after he is beaten. He stops crying, gives Dad a smile, and lets him put the epaulettes on. He says rudely to Ilse that he is "glad I put [the camouflage suit] on" (198). And, perhaps most tellingly, the next morning he thinks to himself that "it's better that Frikkie didn't tell me [about the assault] this morning . . . If he didn't want to tell me about Dad, then he'll never tell anyone, and it's right that way. Between us the secret will always be safe" (109). Marnus buries this and goes on holiday with his family without any further mental consternation, and, given what we know of older Marnus' mindset and career, he did not renege on his choice.