Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883) has long been considered an anticolonial novel that nevertheless, because of its author's affiliation with a European colonial culture, neglects to investigate the problem of disenfranchised African labor in significant detail. In this essay I reassess Schreiner's anticolonialism by placing it in the context of her growing postcolonial aspirations. This rather paradoxical position of the colonist becoming a postcolonial manifests itself in the novel's central artist figure, Waldo, who, while descended from European colonists, manages to make himself at home in his South African environment. Employing nineteenth-century ethnological and aesthetic discourses in the construction of this curious figure (which I refer to as the colonial indigene), Schreiner establishes a connection among the novel, colonial art, and an indigenous South African culture. The novel's narrative present is set during a period of intense border struggle, and while indigenous artists like the San known to the colonists as the Bushmen) have disappeared from the novel's narrative present, Schreiner's colonial indigene takes their place. This imaginative displacement thus corresponds with a demographic one, while also manifesting itself in The Story of an African Farm through a fetishistic aesthetic and the uncanny return of a frequently overlooked African laborer.
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