Olive Schreiner published The Story of an African Farm in 1883 with the pseudonym “Ralph Iron” (Waterman, 43). Like many other women writers of the Victorian era, Schreiner used a male pseudonym to exploit the sexism of the Victorian publishers (Younge, 4). In doing so she demonstrated the necessary role-playing required by women to be involved in the literary culture (Tigges, 189). Women writers like Schreiner disguised their identity as men to secure their place in the literary world and criticize the foundations of the society that made such disguises necessary (Younge, 4). Schreiner attempted to explore the Victorian ideologies of gender and the possibility of going beyond gender stereotypes in this novel. In particular, through the experiences of the characters in The Story of an African Farm the “separate spheres" rule is presented as restrictive and unfair, especially in the area of a woman’s education, work and personal relationships (Waterman, 45).
The dominant gender stereotypes of Victorian society are criticized in The Story of an African Farm primarily through the characters of Lyndall and Em. Schreiner explores the gender role by analyzing the gender stereotypes of Victorian women through the character of Em and presenting untraditional gender roles played by Lyndall (Tigges, 191). While the character of Em presents the picture of an ideal woman, character of Lyndall is known as “the first wholly feminist heroine” and one of the most confusing heroines in Victorian fiction (Waterman, 47). Strongly contrasted with Em and other Victorian women characters, which easily conformed to male authority and choose domesticity, Lyndall represents a “New Woman” in the colonial setting (Younge, 8). Her feminist awakening forms the most important theme of the novel which centers on the struggle of a woman for gender equality, personal freedom and sexual liberation (Younge, 3) .
During this era middle-class women led a life of marriage and domesticity, while middle-class men were concerned with economic productivity and power (Tigges, 200). The major change in the means of production resulted in man's responsibility for trade, capital growth and financial profit and women's role to provide a refuge for men from the hostile environment of the workplace (Tigges, 200). This brought about "the consequent identification of men with the external world of work, and women with the internal world of feeling" (Younge, 8). In order to establish and perpetuate this ideology of “separate spheres”, men and women were convinced that these are their constructed roles. It was natural for men to be involved in the outside world while women took care of the home. As a result, to challenge Victorian ideas of gender during this historical period were unacceptable.
The Story of an African Farm is filled with contradictions as Schreiner explores Victorian women's roles. In order to surpass the defined boundaries set by the society Schreiner attempts to go...