Limits Of Liberalism As Expressed In Not Either An Experimental Doll

1896 words - 8 pages

Not Either an Experimental Doll, is a cluster of letters, narrated by Shula Marks, telling a story between a young South African girl named Lily Moya and a British woman named Mabel Palmer, who tries to help her get an education in the time period when apartheid began developing. The letters reveal many of the complications South African women faced, along with the views of white people on the restraints placed on people of different color. The limits of liberalism in mid-twentieth century South Africa are illustrated throughout this book by Mabel Palmer’s demonstration of ignorance on Lily Moya’s class and culture, her hints at racial discretion toward Lily and her background, and the ...view middle of the document...

10). This clearly demonstrates the point of view Europeans had of people who were of non-European descent, as was Dr. Mabel Palmer to Lily Moya. Although it seems Palmer’s intentions were good, many misunderstandings and wrong impressions between the two cause the eventual collapse in their relationship and the downfall of Lily Moya, all the while demonstrating the presiding liberal views of the white people.
Class and cultural ignorance is demonstrated in Dr. Palmer’s words and cause misunderstandings between her and Lily upon Lily’s background, her motives, and views. Dr. Mabel Palmer shows interest in Lily after she receives the first letter describing a poor girl who is eager for more education. Mabel is a sophisticated, British woman in charge of the non-European sector of education in South Africa. She appears to have little knowledge on the subject of the way South African’s live, even though she may be the most knowledgeable one there is, since she supposedly works with them. Dr. Palmer’s letter to Lily on January 4, 1950 demonstrates what little she knows of life on a native reserve. She has asked Lily to write her a narrative on “Life of a Girl in a Native Reserve,” and is disappointed at the first response. In this letter, ignorance of Lily’s cultural background play through when she asks, “What sort of amusements do young adolescent girls have in Zulu Reserves? Do you often go to the Movies for instance? Do you go to Dances?” (MP to LM, 4.1.50). As it is well known now, beginning stages of apartheid created such segregation that life in the native reserve was not a very enjoyable one, and movies were not a form of entertainment provided. It is possible to assume that Lily had never even seen a movie and was not familiar with this type of amusement, which is why books may have been so prevalent in her life. This unfamiliarity with Lily’s culture and background may have set a limitation on their development as a relationship and also the schooling Lily would go through. Mabel was trying to provide schooling to young African girls but in the meantime hindered this opportunity by her lack of information about the South African people.
Racism is apparent in the 1950’s by the obvious movement toward apartheid, but the liberal thinker, Mabel Palmer, also veers toward this way of thinking when her letters reveal some racist thoughts. In a letter to Lily about making friends, racism shows through her words, “And of course the racial situation in Durban makes all these things more difficult. You must obviously make your friends among your own people” (MP to LM, 12.1.51). Shula Marks specifically calls this passage out in her footnotes by saying, “Despite Mabel’s liberalism, this and much of the above reveals her racially stereotyped thinking” (Marks, Footnote #9, p 136). This same view, that races should form relationship within their own races, plays out again when Mabel comments to Miss Makhanya, an educated black woman, “I feel she...

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