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A Comparison between “An African Sermon” and “Roman Fever”

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Many stories have similar structures and styles of writing. The two short stories that we studied in English are an example of how numerous stories, even though they are from different parts of the world, can have comparable features. “An African Sermon”, a novella by Damon Galgut, is set during the late 90’s in South Africa, while “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton is set in Italy in the early 50’s. The setting is significant in both stories because the authors use them to make a remark about the way they live and how people behave in their societies. They are also used to relate to the themes and messages that are sent across. There are many more similarities between these two short stories, including their uses of symbolism and characterization. On the other hand, they have their differences in ways such as how the setting is used. In “Roman Fever”, the setting is used as a theme and a symbol. It compares the relationship between the two ladies with the ancient ruins in Rome. The setting in “The African Sermon” is used more directly because the setting of South Africa and the reference to Rwanda relates to the Rwanda genocide.

Galgut uses the setting, the fact that they are travelling around South Africa, as a reference to his comments on the society he lives in. “The old man looked worried, and when the train started to move he said, ‘I hope there won’t be any blacks in this compartment.'” During the beginning ages of the post-apartheid South Africa, everybody has just begun to accept the fact that the whites and blacks of the country live together as one, instead of segregated like they used to be.

The isolation of the blacks made the whites feel more superior because they believed that they are ‘bad people’. They were convinced that all blacks were thieves or even murderers. When the old man learnt that Leonard was from Rwanda, he was relieved because he believed that since was foreign, he would not do any harm. “He’s all right. No trouble. Some of them can be trouble, but that guy is foreign.” Galgut is describing the image of what the new post-apartheid South Africa is like and how people act towards others, especially of a different race. Whites tend to act defensive and protective when they see black men because their conscience tells them to be.

This story is the author’s way of expressing his feelings and judgments on the situation in South Africa, and even human nature in general. Throughout the whole story, he gives different examples of his views of what human beings are prone to do. One of the first flaws that he shows about a human being is racism. People have beliefs that tell them that a black man will automatically be a criminal. This shows that men are judgmental. Another fault of humans is the fact that we are selfish and disrespectful. When Douglas Clarke changes the story that Mr. Sagatwa told him, he was only thinking about what the church would want to hear. He knew that even though there wasn’t a happy ending to the story that he had just heard, he could change it to fit into the beliefs of his religion.

Mr. Sagatwa made it quite clear that he was not going to forgive his “brother”, but one of the main things taught in Christian religion is to always learn to forgive. The last and main criticism that Galgut makes about men is the fact that we all make mistakes. Pascal Sagatwa committed murder by killing many people, including his own family. Later on, he felt guilty about what he has done and tried to ‘reclaim his innocence’ by telling Douglas a lie. “And now it seems to Douglas that perhaps it was just a way for Mr. Sagatwa to become innocent again. Just briefly, in the mind of another person, he wanted to undo what he’d done.” Pascal clearly wishes that he never did what he has done- it was a mistake and he wishes he could have erased his past and start over.

Damon Galgut used many literary techniques such as symbolism and metaphors. The symbolism in this story is very evident because it occurred during the majority of the story. The journey on the train is the symbol of Douglas’s maturity, experience, and knowledge about Africa. In the beginning of the journey, he was innocent and did not know anything about South Africa. He was disconnected with the outside of the train. “But in his little car, moving insignificantly across the surface of things, he did not feel connected to what he saw outside. That is Africa, he thought, and I am here. We are not the same.”

He also has never explored any part of Africa or experienced any African occurrences. “Ah, yes. Yes, I would like to… to see Africa.” This is another example showing that he is not familiar with any African culture or place, so he cannot imagine what it would be like. After Leonard told Douglas his story about his brother, Douglas felt a lot more connected to Africa, and he knew more about the lifestyles. He becomes more experienced. “I bet you could tell me a thing or two about Africa. I bet you could teach me something.” Douglas becomes more familiar with the fact that other people saw things differently to how he saw the world. He had always seen things outlines in certainties, in bright stories with a clear moral theme. He finally realizes that there is a different side to life. He finally matures in the end, and becomes more experienced with the lifestyles of Africa.

The fact that the story moves focus from South Africa to Rwanda is relevant to the significance of the setting and how it relates to the theme. The “Rwandan dimension” that is brought into the story subtly gives the readers facts about the Rwandan genocide. Leonard’s story was a twist that was inspired by the Rwandan catastrophe. Galgut vividly described the setting to give us a clear image of what happened to help us imagine the situation. At the end, Galgut describes how Douglas has changed and he is no longer full of confidence and certainties as he was in the beginning. “He could see the hard little steeple with it surmounting cross against the sky but they brought him no comfort today.

They looked like curious symbols, signs from an old, lost language, separate to him and far away.” This shows that he has lost faith in everything he believed in and he became confused. It is irony in the story because he was once convinced and certain that everything was “bright stories with a clear moral theme,” but now, he saw things differently. He started to question everything he believed in. It seems as if he is always missing something. When he first came, he searched for the connection he wanted to have with Africa, and was faithful to his beliefs, but as he becomes more experienced and familiar with Africa, he starts to lose faith in what he believed in. The irony relates to where the story is set.

“Roman Fever” starts off with two American women sitting in the terrace of a Roman restaurant. “From the table at which they had been lunching two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman restaurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked first at each other, and then down on the outspread glories of the Palantine and the Forum…” Their neat appearances hint the readers that they are well-off, and the fact that the two ladies, Grace Ansley and Alita Slade, are on a vacation with their daughter tells the readers that these two women are of a wealthy background.

At the start, there is a comparison between the home neighborhood of the two women in NewYork and Rome. The two women have lived across from each other that each woman knows all the details about the other’s life. This plays a significant part because it develops the characters. At home, the setting was too confining for the two women to let out their true feelings about each other. In Rome, they are free to open up to each other because of the open environment and the freeing nature. The setting is important for the rising action of the story.

Wharton also uses her short story, “Roman Fever” to comment on the society she lives in. The message or theme that the author is trying to get through is that you never know people as well as you think you do. The theme of their fading friendship is connected to the setting. Unlike how the setting is used literally in “An African Sermon”, Italy is used more as a metaphor to compare the relationship between Alida Slade and Grace Ansley. The ancient ruins represent the crumbling friendship between the two women. Also, the fact that they are in Italy relates to gladiators and how they are fighting. The two women are the “gladiators” who are fighting, but instead of physically, they battle it out verbally. Each person reveals their true feelings towards the other, which hurt them. This is significant to character development because it shows how each character is able to stand up for themselves. It also shows how women are able to be aggressive and this story shows the violent side of women.

The time of day is significant to the rising action which leads into the climax. Before the sky was dark, the tone of the story and their conversations were lighter and more cheerful. As soon as it began to get darker, the tone becomes more gloomy and dark. “Suddenly the air was full of that deep clangor of bells which periodically covers Rome with a roof of silver. Mrs. Slade glanced at her wristwatch. “Five o’clock already,” she said, as though surprised.” After sitting side by side for a long time in silence, Mrs. Slade decides to end the quietness by slipping in an awkward phrase. This sense of awkwardness between the two foreshadows that something happened between the two of them and that they are not as close as they thought they were. “The long golden light was beginning to pale…”

The day is getting darker and the mood is also getting dimmer. Soon, the two women reveal their secrets and tell the truth about what happened the night they were here. Mrs. Slade forged a letter from her fianc� for Mrs. Ansley asking to meet her in the Coliseum. Mrs. Ansley confessed that something happened that night between them when they met. “The clear heaven overhead was emptied of all its gold. Dusk spread over it, abruptly darkening the Seven Hills.” The sky is dark and the two women are battling it out like two gladiators. This brutal fight will end in death, and in this case it’s the death of a friendship. At the end, it is revealed that Barbara is actually the daughter of Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade’s husband.

As shown above, I believe that the main similarities of the two stories are the fact that both authors use the setting of their novella to emphasize and make it significant to the theme. There was also a great deal of irony in both stories. In “Roman Fever”, the story started off with Mrs. Slade being the more confident one with more “edge” because she felt superior after thinking that she tricked her friend, Mrs. Ansley, into “meeting her husband”. At the end, there was an unexpected turn of events. It turns out, Mrs. Ansley replied to the letter and Delphin did agree to meet her at the coliseum that night. More shockingly, Barbara, Mrs. Ansley’s daughter turned out to be the daughter of Mrs. Slade’s late husband. There was a change in character because Mrs. Slade feels defeated at the end.

In “An African Sermon”, the irony is that Douglas Clarke came into South Africa looking for a connection to Africa, but he was faithful to all he believed in. At the end of the story, he became more mature and experienced and found a connection to Africa, but he lost his faith to his beliefs. Another similar characterization between the two stories is the fact that there are people who are different to what they appear to be. In “An African Sermon”, Leonard Sagatwa did not seem like he was the murderer who killed many people, but at the end, it is revealed that he is actually Pascal Sagatwa, the murderer. Mrs. Ansley may look like an innocent and quiet woman who would never betray her best friend’s fianc�, but she had an affair with him and had his daughter. There were all key points to what made the endings of the story so shocking.

The main difference between the two short stories is the way that the setting is used. In “Roman Fever”, the setting is used as a theme and a symbol while in “An African Sermon”, the setting is used more literally by relating to an incident in Rwandan history. Another difference is the relationship between the characters in the story. In “Roman Fever”, the two ladies “knew” one another since their childhood. They are very familiar with each other and have a “friendly” relationship. The relationship between Leonard and Douglas is the opposite because they do not know each other very well. They only met once on a train and they have not met again since then. They have an awkward relationship as if they were complete strangers.

In conclusion, both stories use the setting as a literary device to emphasize their themes and to send out their message. Its significance to the story helps the authors criticize and comment about the society.

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