Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Dagni A. Bredesen

Thesis Committee Member

Michael Loudon

Thesis Committee Member

Jeannie Ludlow


The literature of post-apartheid South Africa suggests that the atrocities of the past still linger and continue to shape the mentality of the nation. Grace and hope often mix with resentment, bitterness, and vexation in the pages of contemporary South African novels. Marlene van Niekerk's The Way of the Women (2004), Zoë Wicomb's Playing in the Light (2006), and Kopano Matlwa's Spilt Milk (2010), each reflects on intersections of race, space, and gender as they occur in specific locations. These novels all unfold in South Africa, and involve highly particularized settings that conjure up specific moments from the country's history; nevertheless, thematically these works resonate. Though written in distinct narrative styles, each novel addresses the convergence of race and geography that continues to impact present day South Africa. These narratives shift back and forth between the present and the past, and the multilayered texts each act as a palimpsest, as the replaying and revision of past events place different conceptions of the same stories on top of one another. Furthermore, I build on Rita Barnard's phrase, "knowing one's place," to discuss these representations of apartheid, a system that made it virtually impossible to define one's place in society with any sense of confidence. The authors criticize the Afrikaner myth of superiority and the instability of the National Party's resulting policy, yet suggest that all South Africans, regardless of race, must accept personal responsibility for their past actions before true progress can be made. As a result, South Africa's diverse population, a people supposedly defined by renewed sense of racial equality, remains unstable today.