Friday, June 10, 2011

Ha'Penny Theme Essay

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In Alan Paton’s Ha’Penny, is a story narrated by the principal of a reformatory for

boys in South Africa. It depicts how a young waif creates his own comforting reality in

contrast to his harsh life at the a lonely reformatory.

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Reformatory by definition is a penal institution for young offenders. This

immediately causes the reader to think of disobedience and prison, a cold and lonely

place. Reformatories in South Africa were mostly black and mixed children. Paton uses

language that reinforces this idea throughout the story such as, authority, coloured, the

State, and trouble. Although a reformatory in reality is a rehabilitation center that was

created in the 1860’s where the inmates are given productive activities to do and they are

treated on a more individual basis rather than a mass as prison does. Thus creating not

only a lonely environment but a somewhat hopeful environment of the boys going back

into the world with skills to build on.This is demonstrated by the relationship that the

principal has with the younger boys. “But I would often move through the silent and

orderly parade…,” illustrates that although they had more freedom than in prison it was

still strict. Although it to like any other institution had its problems, “…the reformatory

was passing through times of turbulence and trouble, and when there was danger of

estrangement between authority and boys.

Paton uses the principal’s car as a psychologist would use a couch. The principal

would take some of the smaller boys, which he preferred to deal with since they could be

tamed with affection, and drove them around while managing to reveal details about their

personal lives. He lets them observe and admire him and gain their trust. Once they trust

him he casually ask questions and Ha’Penny gives him the details of his life. He then

uses these details and uncovers Ha’Penny’s secret and pities the boy. Taking action in the

State run reformatory, he shows a softer side to the often callous system where authority

is always enforced.

The correctional setting in this story is a major influence on the protagonist,

Ha’Penny, for it causes him to turn his lonely life with some imagination and hope into

one with a family. In actuality he is an orphan that was unmanageable and was beginning

a life in crime by stealing. In the reformatory he responds to the punishment and manages

to achieve only a small record and becomes obedient. The loneliness of the reformatory

strengthens his desire to have a loving family and therefore not only attaches himself to

the principal but a mother of four that knew him only as, “…a derelict of the streets.”

Therefore Paton uses the setting in this story to show a lonely yet hopeful

imaginative boy in the midst of the cold life in a reformatory. He also uses contrast in

setting, the cold reformatory life, to the sociable conversations where he becomes closer

to the boys in his car. The reformatory in the end of the story is given a more caring and

gentler side than the original image of pure discipline.

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