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"The Madonna of Excelsior" by Zakes Mda: The Garden Party

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Visual and musical details in 'The Garden Party'.
    1. The painting of the Garden Party.
    2. The feeling of movement.
    3. The garden party represented as a play.
  3. Time and focalization.
    1. The unusual use of time in the chapter.
    2. Focalization by Popi and Niki.
  4. Social and Historical elements conveyed by the focalizer of Niki.
    1. 'The Garden Party' as the sample of a cruel and unfair society.
    2. Excelsior as the embodiment of apartheid.
    3. Hope for the future.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

"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. [...]


[...] Behind his game of ?hide-and-seek? with the reader, Zakes Mda sends a message to him through the eyes of Niki, the mother, as if to give more importance to these events that wouldn't have had such an impact on us if they had been conveyed through the memory of a child. While Popi's description of the party is an imaginary one, Niki's description of the garden party is more realistic, more adult and denounces the South African society under the apartheid. Zakes Mda's message is rather bitter but not without hope: life is hard for [...]

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