Themes and message

The main theme of the short story “The Waste Land” by Alan Paton is the decadence of society which is enhanced through sub-themes like violence, pain and fear. Though there are no direct references to society in South Africa, Alan Paton’s message is that South Africans are exposed to violence and anarchy, mostly because of their poverty which, in its turn, was largely a result of the apartheid regime in the country. 

Decadent society

Societies are labelled decadent when their members engage in immoral behaviours and acts. This can refer to any number of attitudes and actions such as greed, violence, loss of family values in favour of deviant sexual behaviours, an extreme focus on material gains, or a loss of all interest in spiritual values.

In the case of this short story, the author explores this theme by depicting dehumanised beings, driven to violence by their desire for money (either to get or keep). The protagonist finds himself in a fight for his life...


Violence, Pain & Fear

The aspects of the decadent society the author focuses on in this short story are violence, pain and fear. The dominant action in the short story is violent, with the old man being brutally chased by some young men for his money and being forced to beat one of them with his stick to death.


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