The Wasteland


Resource Pack for: “The Waste Land” by Alan Paton

Created by Dinah O’Meara


The story was published in 1961 as part of Alan Paton’s collection “Tales from a Troubled Land.” Although no country is named in the text nor is there specific reference to race or to apartheid, the story explores the human cost of such a system.

Alan Paton (1903 – 1988), a white man who lived in South Africa, campaigned for black civil rights through the apartheid era (1948 – 1994), although he did not live to see the beginning of the removal of the apartheid laws in 1991. Apartheid , from the Afrikaans meaning ‘apartness’, was legally endorsed in South Africa, including enforced racial segregation. Inter-marriage and social interaction between races were strictly forbidden. This political ideology lead to a society where white people held most of the wealth and privileges and black people struggled with poverty and racism. You will have heard of Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in jail for opposing apartheid and who was elected the first black South African president in 1994.

Paton came from a family of writers and he developed a strong interest in politics. He taught at a school to ‘reform’ young black men. His 1948 novel ‘Cry, The Beloved Country’ is a classic text. It has been said that Paton was “the man who pulled up the barbed wire fence and planted geraniums” in South Africa.