"The Garden Party" is the second chapter of Zakes Mda's fourth novel The Madonna of Excelsior which was published in 2001. The author was born in Hershel in 1948 and grew up in Lesotho where his family emigrated for political reasons. He left South Africa in 1963 for the United States where he studied literature at Ohio University, and lived abroad for 22 years before returning to his birth country in 1995. He is now a dramatist at the Market Theatre of Johannesburg and a professor in the Creative Department at Ohio University. His work has been mainly influenced by his personal experience and by the diversity of the African tradition. Zakes Mda's The Madonna of Excelsior deals with the life of the small farming community of the town of Excelsior during two periods: "now", that is to say 1971 and "then", right after the abolition of apartheid. Each chapter starts with the description of a painting from an artist priest, Father Frans Claerhout, who lived in the Free State town of Tweespruit.
[...] The painting of the garden party The insertion of visual details in the narrative firstly gives the reader the feeling that he can actually the painting, and then that he can enter the canvas. The first impression we get is linked to the use of the ekphrasis which is the description of a work of art, or in other words, a representation of a representation. The role played by such a device is to make the reader picture the painting through words, for example, on lines 8-9 p5: ) she saw the thin outlines that defined the concertina player and the dancers” gives us the first visual details of the painting which seems to appear before our eyes. [...]
[...] Focalization by Popi and Niki From paragraph 3 page 5 to the end of paragraph 3 page 6-7 the reader “pictures” the painting and the actual garden party through the eyes of young Popi. Like any child, Popi is brimful of imagination and it is as if everything she looks at belonged to the realm of fantasy. Indeed, the numerous metaphors indicates that it is young Popi, and no one else, who is describing the garden party: colours were fruity” on line 18, “Thick fingers like bunches of bananas” on lines 18-19 page and women floated on the clouds” on line 8 page exuberant as the fruity dancers.” On line 28 page 6 etc. [...]
[...] Popi is the living proof of a forbidden sexual relationship between a white and a black person. We will later learn that Tjaart is in fact her half brother and that Niki went to prison. The author therefore indirectly refers to the trial of excelsior a scandal that took place in 1971 when black female domestic workers (Niki included) were charged under the Immorality Act after the police had discovered “coloured” children. But Mda also gives a more optimistic point of view and it is hope which closes the chapter even though deep enmity is omnipresent. [...]
[...] Garden Party” as the sample of a cruel an unfair society The garden party celebrated at Adam and Lizette de Vries's is the representation of a South African society divided into two different worlds: that of the rich (the whites) and that of the poor (the blacks): very cream of Excelsior Society.” on lines 12-13 page 8. This rich society is also very selfish: ) visitors walked in through the gate without giving Niki and Popi a second glance.” On lines 21-22, page 8. [...]
[...] We know that she is then thirty and is looking at a painting: The Garden Party which is a canvas by trinity who was at that time “nourished by Flemish Expressionists”. As we know, trinity (that is to say Father Frans Claerhout) arrived in South Africa from Belgium in 1946 which explains his artistic style, very different from the one he will use later in his paintings: strokes) got thicker and rougher as he became more comfortable in his own style” on lines 15-16 page 5. [...]
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