An Act of Vengeance

This study guide will help you analyse the text "An Act of Vengeance" by Rosemund J. Handler. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. 

In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message, and we will help you put the text into perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: “An Act of Vengeance” (2005)
Author: Rosemund J. Handler
Genre: Short story

Rosemund J. Handler is an author and has published short stories and novels in both the USA and South Africa. In 2010, she was one of the nominees for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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One of the key symbols in the story is the dishwasher. The machine is bought by Miss C. Bester, but she never lets her black maid Pauline use it. When a pile of dirty dishes gather, Pauline feels like doing something to the machine to get revenge. The machine becomes a symbol of Miss C. Bester and the alleged superiority of white people, which Pauline comes to resent. Just as Pauline wants to damage the machine, the men who rape Miss C. Bester damage the woman herself. Consequently, the machine becomes a symbol of Miss C. Bester. Finally, the dishwasher is symbolic of the wealth and privileges white people had in South Africa compared to black people.

The symbol of the dishwasher is linked with that of the dirty dishes– which become a symbol of racial prejudice and discrimination. Pauline has to wash the dirty dishes manually, not being deemed good enough to use the machine. This implies Miss C. Bester feels superior because she is white.

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An Act of Vengeance

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