Analysis of The Sisters Short Story by Pauline Smith

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This essay critically analyses The Sisters short story by Pauline Smith. The purpose is to discuss the literary devices used by the writer, Pauline Smith. The essay focus on two literary devices. Firstly, it will focus on the structure of the story, which include; setting, structure and plot development, characterization, narrator and point of view. Lastly, it will focus on the literary and language concepts (diction, tone and style).


The title of the story “The Sisters” indicates that the focus is on the two sisters, Marta and Sukey, who are devoted to each other.


  • Greed and how it affects people’s lives

Burgert de Jager’s obsessive greed to keep his lands and to have water to irrigate the land blinds him to the effect of his actions on his daughters. Jan Redlinghuis’s greed to possess Marta and to display her around the district in the end killed both her and him.

  • Powerlessness of women

According to Van Niekerk (1990:19), men’s urge to have power over women and land by means of possession and exploitation. In the story, the power of men is shown in the way that Burgert de Jager used Marta, as a pawn in his battle to keep his lands. She had no power over her fate, and she got married off to Jan Redlinghuis. Marta had no power to stop Jan Redlinghuis from parading her and boasting to everyone that her father had sold her to him.

  • The power of love between sisters

Sukey was prepared to sacrifice herself to Jan Redlinghuis in order to save her weaker sister, Marta from marriage. Marta tries to comfort and reassure Sukey that she is ready to accept her fate.

Analysis of the Short Story


  • Little Karoo, near Oudtshoorn, neighbouring farms, Bitterwater and Zeekoegatt in vicinity of the Platkops.
  • Even though there are few descriptions in the story, we know that Little Karoo is a very harsh and drought-stricken world.
  • The water rights from the Ghamka River.

Structure and Plot Development

The complication in the story arises from the fact that Burgert de Jager has tried for many years to get water from Ghamka river through a neighbouring farm owned by Jan Redlinghuis and has spent a great deal of money on legal fees. He is so obsessed with this that he does not notice how it is affecting his wife, who dies in his “bitterness and sorrow”.

The conflict between the two farmers creates the tension in the story. Burget de Jager eventually owes Jan Redlinghuis so much money for allowing the water to pass through his farms that he is forced to make a deal with him (Redlinghuis will either marry Marta or take over the Burget de Jager’s farm). This tension rises in the story when De Jager decides that Marta must marry Jan Redlinghuis to save the farm.

The story reaches a climax when Marta becomes weaker and weaker from the humiliation of her position, and eventually dies. Sukey is very unforgiving towards her father and blames him for the deaths of both her mother and sister. This causes tension and conflict between Sukey and her father.

The resolution of the story only comes after Marta has died and Jan Redlinghuis has shot himself. Jan Redlinghuis character has not prepared us for his suicide. Sukey comes to understand the goodness of Marta, and she found some compassion for her father and tells him: “Do now as it seems right to you … Who am I that I should judge you?” (Chapman (2004:56).

Burget de Jager expressed remorse for selling Marta and for her consequent death. To show his remorse, he closes up the furrow that had been leading water from the river onto his lands.


  • Sukey de Jager- Marta’s younger sister; fearless, loyal, loving, loses faith in God, is very perceptive.
  • Marta Magdalena de Jager- 16 when mother dies; loves her sister, not judgemental, is willing to sacrifice self for family.
  • Burgert de Jager- Owns Zeekoegatt, weak, envies Jan Redlinghuis, greedy, sells Marta to save farm.
  • Jan Redlinghuis- Owns Bitterwater, cruel, greedy, vengeful.

Narrator and Point of View

The first person narrator, Sukey de Jager, is a young girl living on a farm in the Little Karoo. She is strong-willed and the story is told from her point of view.

Literary and Language Concepts


The way the writer uses words and word order emphasises the meaning she wants to convey to the reader.


When Sukey refers to Marta, she remembers her only as having a “still, sad face” (Chapman (2004:56). The narrator’s tone mostly emphasises the sorrow and despair that the characters experience. The writer emphasises the tone of despair near the end of the story when Marta dies at sun-down. It is as if Sukey and her father are entering an emotional night-time.

However, the story ends with a more hopeful tone when both Burgert de Jager and Sukey come to deeper emotional insights. Burgert de Jager finally realises that his actions have caused deaths of his wife and his daughter, and he asks for God’s forgiveness. Sukey does not scold her father, but says what her sister Marta would say: “Who am I that I should judge you?” (Chapman (2004:56).


From the point of view of the narrator, the story is told through a combination of dialogue and description of the events. We are not told by the writer what the characters look like or what the land looks like, because the focus is on the attitudes and reactions of the characters to the troubles that they experience.

The style of the language in the dialogue is old-fashioned and mimics the sentence structure of Afrikaans to give us a closer impression of the speakers’ context and culture. An example of this is: “this night will I” instead of ‘tonight I will’ as the writer wants to follow the Afrikaans word order, namely ‘sal ek’.


In summary, this essay focused on structure, literary and language concepts of the short story. Dorothy has pointed out that “one form of oppression… generates awareness…” (1990: xii). The conflict between Burgert de Jager and Jan Redlinghuis created the tension in the story. The writer emphasised the tone of despair near the end of the story when Marta dies at sun-down. However, the story ends with a more hopeful tone when both Burgert de Jager and Sukey come to deeper emotional insights.


  1. Michael Chapman (2004). The New Century of South African Short Stories: Jonathan Ball.
  2. Driver D, 1982. Pauline Smith and Silence. In Gardner, Susan (ed.) Publisher, Writer, Reader: Sociology of Southern African Literature Colloquium. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 140-9.
  3. Driver D (ed.) 1983. Pauline Smith. Johannesburg: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  4. Studylib.net. 2019. Short-story-analysis.doc. [ONLINE] Available at: https://studylib.net/doc/8001752/short-story-analysis.doc. [Accessed 19 September 2019].
  5. Van Niekerk, A. 1990. Introduction. Raising the Blinds: A Century of South African Women’s Stories. By Van Niekerk, A. (ed.) Cape Town: AD. Donker, 11-20.

Cite this paper

Analysis of The Sisters Short Story by Pauline Smith. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-the-sisters-short-story-by-pauline-smith/

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