Innovative register and feminist critique in Mark Behr’s The Smell of Apples




Afrikaner, feminist critique, innovative registers, patriarchy, apartheid, class, race


Mark Behr’s artistic exploration of the horrific legacy of Afrikaner racist and masculinist ideology in The Smell of Apples has attracted substantial critical attention. This is perhaps what has elevated his novel to a post-apartheid South African literary canon. While it has been read as an exculpatory narrative—an exploration of how white South Africans disclosed their complicity in apartheid’s atrocities and/or a disclosure of how the apartheid system violated their rights—there is critical blindness to other important themes that the novel grapples with. This is why I offer a limited reading of Behr’s critique of Afrikaner gender oppression. My exploration, which focuses on Behr’s exposition of gender discrimination of upper-middle class women in an Afrikaner society, is anchored on two questions: how does Behr deploy an innovative register—eavesdropping child witness-narrator and a written letter—to unveil the oppression of upper-middle class white South African women in the Afrikaner polity? Second, how does he script the feminist agency of the ‘mother of the nation’ figure who is muzzled by Afrikaner patriarchy? I foreground Maria Pia Lara’s thinking about the liberational potential of literary texts in my discussion of Behr’s exposition of the gendered oppression of certain categories of women by Afrikaner patriarchy.


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Author Biography

Edgar Fred Nabutanyi, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Edgar Fred Nabutanyi is senior lecturer in the Department of Literature, School of Languages, Literature, and Communication, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda and Senior Research Associate in the Department of Literary Studies in English, Faculty of Humanities, Rhodes University, Cape Town, South Africa.


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How to Cite

Nabutanyi, E. F. (2024). Innovative register and feminist critique in Mark Behr’s The Smell of Apples. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 61(1), 16–23.



Research articles