Ah, Woe Is Me


Ah, Woe Is Me

A) Summary of The Story:
In the beginning of this short story we are introduced to Sarah, an aging black servant living in South Africa. She works hard for an upper-class white family and spends all of her money on education for her three children who are sent to a boarding school. They come home once a year at Christmas, and the first time the narrator meets the children, she is surprised at their well-mannered behaviour. She finds, however, that Sarah is a bit harsh towards them, and she comments on this. Sarah tells her that it is better to learn the lesson now and grow to accept one’s fate later. In the course of the following year, Sarah must give up her job because of her legs, and one day her daughter comes to the house. Slowly she tells her story to the narrator. How the younger brother is working now, and how she is taking care of Sarah. The narrator offers her some clothes and some money and invites her inside for a cup of tea. When she is about to leave, she starts crying and can only mutter that her mother is very ill. Unsure of what to do, the narrator hands her a handkerchief.

B) An Essay About the Text:
The setting in this story is South Africa in the 1950’s. Apartheid and segregation are words that describe the conditions under which the blacks (the native Africans) live perfectly. The blacks nearly have no rights and must accept being oppressed by the whites. Sarah is only one of many poor blacks who only just manages to earn a living by working as a servant for a rich white family (the narrator). Slavery does not exist anymore, but it can be difficult to distuingish the life of a slave from that of a native African in the 50’s except from the fact that they do after all get paid for their work. Sarah is very concerned about her children getting a good education. She probably wants them to have a better life than she has had so far, and while that is a very noble thought, the facts speak against it. Her children do not at this time have a very good (if any) chance of getting a good solid education because it is very expensive, and their mother does not make that much money. Even if she did make enough money, her legs are bad, and at the end of the story, she has to give up her job (and thus take her children out of the boarding school) because she cannot afford to pay for the school. This is what could look like the final blow to her children’s future success in life. No education means no chances of getting a better life in South Africa (and just about everywhere else, too). But what if she did have enough money to give her children a proper education - would that guarantee the children a good future life? I gravely doubt it. As I said before, the blacks live almost like slaves, and as such, they do not have the opportunity to climb the social ladder. All in all, Sarah’s hopes and dreams for her children are all very noble, but, unfortunately, at that time and place, very unrealistic.
The narrator does not treat Sarah any better than most other white people in South Africa at this time. While she allows Sarah’s children to stay in her house during Christmas, I think the only reason she does it is because she tries to escape her own bad conscience. It is Christmas after all. Throughout the rest of the year, she does not even think about helping Sarah’s children financially so they can stay in school. Even though she presumably has more money than Sarah will ever see, the thought of helping her servant out does not strike her at any point in the story. Her servant is her servant, and servants’ children are not someone she thinks about. This point is also very clear to see when one reads the description of the narrator’s thoughts about Sarah’s children. She is surprised at how well