Analysis of a Drink in the Passage


A Drink in the Passage is a story that depicts the tragic awkwardness that mainly characterizes the experience and encounters between people of different races in the era of apartheid in South Africa. The narrator tells a story of how Edward Simelane, who is a noted black sculptor and had won an award for his work titled ” African Mother and Child,” shares a drink with a white Afrikaner, Van Rensburg, after they got a chance encounter in the capital city, Johannesburg.  Van Rensburg is depicted in the story as an ardent admirer of Simelane’s sculptors, but he does not realize that the person with whom he strikes up a conversation is the award-winning artist. On the other hand, Van Rensburg is identified as racially progressive. The tone of the story seems to one of the defiant conviviality that arises from the flouting of laws that bar people from relating to each other as individuals. The significance of the title of the story is revealed in an irony form. This essay seeks to shed more light on the fact that apartheid is an act of separation and discrimination based on the differences in race. The changes observed in a system are characterized by racial segregation and discrimination that defined apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s.


In the story, the title is signifying the narrow relationships that have been in existence in human engagement during the era of apartheid in South Africa. The journey is a meeting joint of sorts, but it portends to what cannot be shared. However, “Simelane is extraordinary magnanimous in accepting the situation,” (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 118). As a result, this reiterates the centrality of the person in the moral circulation even if Simelane became angry; he would have probably exempted Van Rensburg from the anger by acknowledging his good intentions. The story is compelling at this point since it succeeds in depicting the ironies of a meeting that is considered to be an act of separation and a gesture of hospitality that is mainly restricted to a Drink in the Passage. Also the fact that Simelane never shows his true identity to Van Rensburg as the artist who made the award-winning sculptor “African Mother to Child” (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 121). The discussion between Simelane and Van Rensburg is significant within the narrative because it is suggestive to the nature of the relationship between the black and the whites. Further, the sculptor as a major character in the narrative is depicted to speak powerfully to the white man whereas he also looks forward to interacting with him as a mate despite the intense apartheid that rocked the country. However, the white man never wanted his identity to be known due to his to strength as well as artistic achievements.  Approximately halfway in the story, it seems to establish several ironies, and it could have deepened them and teased out their implications. The result is that it makes it explicit what does not necessarily require explicitness. This is quite evident when comparing the two characters and their thoughts about race at the end of their conversation (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 123).


In the story, the theme of freedom is evident in some ways. It includes an emphasis on the role played by the environment in the molding of the characters. The author attributes what he considers as a damaging reluctance to concede that a law-breaking child should be helped and given the necessary protection and not judged and punished in part based on the theories of heredity. These regarded the child as uneducable and to the ultra-moralistic attitude to the entire question of free-will choice (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 146).

Racial Segregation and Discrimination

The author discusses the issue of racial segregation. In the story, the narrator uses characterization to make an effort to show how the social barriers can be broken and to illustrate a turning point in a society that is marked by racial segregation and where there is apartheid. However, racial discrimination has affected many people’s lives in different ways. Whereas many people make deliberate decisions on race, other people are mainly influenced subconsciously by the where they live. The narrator tells the story of a black artist who is responsible for the design of an award-winning sculptor (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 119). As black man focuses on his art late one night that is placed on a display through a window incidentally, a white man joins him in a dialogue to inquire who made the piece, not knowing the black man was the owner of the piece of art. There was a fundamental issue that the two people discussed which was mainly about discrimination and segregation that was prevalent in their different races (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 122). The two characters are presented in the story as individuals who make an effort to change the society through connecting with each other through an open and honest discussion in an attempt to eliminate the racial lines that characterize the society. The author highlights the effort by the two men to connect. Paton, Brown, and Maseko also use Simelane’s award-winning piece as well as the folding events in the story to demonstrate the changes that took place in South Africa especially during the era of Apartheid (123).

 Adaptation Theory

In the story, adaptation theory can be applied to demonstrate the processes of the characters. The white man seems to be very active and eager to engage in a conversation with a black man who always appears to be passive and reluctant. At the time, South Africa was being ruled by a white person and was characterized by differences in race and the problems linked to discrimination since blacks were considered to lack social status. Also, the blacks were oppressed and exploited by the white people (Wang 1532). The two characters had to come to terms with each other and deal with the issue of inequality that was rampant in the society as well as to the blacks since the whites were considered to be the dominant race and formed the ruling class. It is also evident that the black man never wanted his identity to be revealed because it could cause him problems in society. As a result, Simelane refused to reveal his identity that he was the prize winner of the award-winning a piece of art. Therefore, what determines the behavior, as well as there, was mainly the adaptation to their background with the aim of meeting the conversation needs and desires of either side that were necessary for the prevailing situation.

Adaptation to a situation is observed in the manner in which the author has used language. The black man’s piece of art was ranked the best and won a prize that was appealing to the white man. He invited Simelane for a conversation without knowing that the black man was the actual owner of the piece of art that was ranked the best. Simelane accepted the invitation from the white man to have a drink in his flat, but in the hallway. Paton writes that when the black man refused to receive his prize by himself due to the fear that he had because the whites could cause him more harm (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 121). He said to others that he was not feeling up to it because his parents and sisters had the same feeling. The confession demonstrates that Simelane never went to get the price personally since he might encounter some problems from the whites who believed that the blacks were not subjected to any form of competition and were inferior in the society. On the other hand, even if the blacks do get involved in such an award-winning sculptor, it should not be them to get the award-winning prize.  The other incident in the story is when the white man asks a black man if he has any knowledge about the winner of the prize and he refused to conceal his identity as the actual winner. Therefore, based on adaptation theory, it is evident that at the time there existed severe racial apartheid that rendered the blacks to consider themselves as inferior (Wang 1536). As a result, the blacks had to adapt to the situation by hiding their identity because it would land them in trouble.

Inferiority Complex

When the two characters were on their way to take a drink, they engage in a conversation where the white man asks questions, and the black man provides brief answers but unwillingly. From the conversation, it is evident that the black man is very cautious and at the same time passive and reluctant to give a detailed response (Wang 1537). As the black man felt inferior to the white man, he had to provide responses to the questions asked by the white man in case the silence may be seen as offensive to Van Rensburg. Since Simelane was not willing to remain quiet, the nature of depression that was evident in the black man can be felt by the readers.  Also, when the two characters were discussing as they were moving to the white man’s home, there is an indication of an awkward condition as well as an oppressed state of the black man. It is demonstrated that in his inner state, Simelane never wanted to get into a deep engagement with the white man but in the circumstance that he got himself in, he was subjected to behave under the context (Ge 9). However, Simelane seems to very reluctant in the dialogue but to adapt to the situation, he was compelled to give brief answers to the white man’s questions.  There are several other examples in the text to illustrate the point. Due to the persistent racial segregation in South Africa, there is a very little mutual engagement between the two characters (Wang 1539). Therefore, to ensure that there is no suspicion, the white man made a decision to introduce the black man

Language Choice

The narrator has made an appropriate choice in the language used in the narrative such as language tone, as well as intonation. As a result, to make the dialogue to continue smoothly, the choice of language has to is necessary based on specific language style and the cultural elements. When Van Rensburg meets with the black man by chance, he asks him, “What do you think of that, mate? (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 124). During the era of apartheid in South Africa, the blacks were identified with very funny names due to prejudice.  In the conversation, the Van Rensburg uses a soft language tone to speak to the black man and he decides to use a relatively soft term and by taking a polite form of communication. The language choice used by the speaker in the story is used is to make the black man feel comfortable, which eventually enabled him to accept and move on with the conversation (Gilmour 18).

The change in language style and use of words express the narrator’s successful way of communication.  As a result, the audience can imagine that while engaging in a dialogue, the Van Rensburg had to do this is a friendly tone. This way, it will seem to be friendly because, in his heart, the white man wants to exchange views with the black man concerning the award-winning sculptor and Simelane accepts the invitation to go with Van Rensburg to his flat for a drink in the hallway (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 125). The other example in the story is when the black man is offered biscuits by a white lady. He chose the right words to thank the white lady because he wanted to make his utterances polite and to ensure that his identity is matched based on the context. Since the listener was the white lady, it would appear absurd to approach her with a greeting by addressing her as a miss. Rather than of using English, Simelane uses very formal Afrikaans as a way to show appreciation that that suited the situation (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 126). The choice of words depended on the situation to show respect to the white lady and ensure that the identity of the black man was maintained. Evidently, in the choice of words used during the conversation, the depiction of the two characters is achieved.

To make a conversation successful, it is necessary to use the right language that can be achieved through the right choice of words that suit the context (Gilmour 19). When a black man was invited to, the drink was arranged in a passage and not in the room. However, according to Simelane, the events were beyond his expectation. He described his emotions as certainly he had not anticipated that he would be given a drink in the hallway (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 125). He went on to suggest that anger could have done more to have saved him from the situation that was somehow embarrassing to him. Also, Simelane was black and could not afford to refuse the offer he was given by a white man in any circumstance. As a result, he had to hide his anger and show some form of courtesy.

In the passage, when the white man went to bring the drink, a white lady talks to Simelane. Usually, at the time in South Africa, white people never spoke the blacks in a low tone since they considered themselves superior, and were the ruling class (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 124). However, the woman used a low tone when talking to Simelane and about the sculptor; hence had to ensure that she used the best tone. As such, the white woman is doing so to fit the context. This indicates that the choice of language in the story is to fit the context.


In the story, the readers feel that the white people are dominant and the black are in inferior which suggests inequality in the South African society by the time. Also, the way it can be imagined by the time, the white people enjoyed the privileges and treated the white man with superiority. However, this is not the case between Van Rensburg and Simelane (Gilmour 12). Indeed, the white man in this context treats the black man with kindles because he has a strong will to ensure that he shares his opinion with the black man who was the true owner of the prize-winning a piece of art, who had to adapt to the situation. However, during the era of apartheid in South Africa, the black people were usually despised; hence Simelane developed a strategy to adapt to the circumstance and to protect his identity (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 127). It is evident from the dialogue that most of the time, Simelane would prefer to keep quiet or give brief answers when asked a question. As a result, the nature of inequality in the country could be revealed in the dialogue and indicated how Simelane is very conscious. As a result, he does not reveal his name or identity to the white man. As such, he understands how to adapt to the situation, which accounted for his passive nature and caution. As the story comes to an end, when the Van Rensburg drove Simelane to the railway station, the white man is frustrated. Although the white man felt bad and frustrated he does not show his feelings to Simelane because it was not his fault. The white man believed that the whole problem was attributed to the system that makes the black people and the white people to be separated (Paton, Brown, and Maseko 129). Also, when Simelane was on the back of the train on his way home, he reflected that he was just like a person who is trying to the impossible by a man trying to engage a race in iron shoes, but with very little understanding why he could not make any slight movement. Hence, from the analysis, it is evident that main characters are aware of adaptation in a society that is characterized by inequality. Also, they understand that in certain situations, they have to cope with the situation by adjusting the language or gesture fit into the context.


The story is set during the apartheid era in South Africa when a talented black man won a prize for the best sculptor African Mother and Child, and this causes a great sensation among the whites. During the time, no blacks were supposed to participate in the competition; hence the entry by Simelane was considered as a mistake. The story is also set at a time when the blacks and the whites were separated. Therefore, Simelane took a chance when he accepted the white man’s offer for a Drink in the Passage. Nevertheless, he was not allowed to enter the white man’s house and had to take the drink on the passage. Thus, the story demonstrates that the only way to avert a national crisis is the time was for the winner not to show up. To attend the prize-giving ceremony and to accept the award would make him appear as a demonstrator rather than an artist. Therefore, the black man goes to see his sculpture on display on a window where he admired it without anybody realizing that he is the one who created it where he meets the white man. A Drink in the Passage explores a favorite theme which is racial opposites that cross social barriers to make a tentative and fleeting personal contact. Through the dialogue that ensued in the narrative, readers can identify how adaptation to the situation plays a fundamental role in enhancing social engagement, and it assists in understanding the characters and their inner world.

Works Cited

Ge, Lingling. The Inspiration of Adaptation Theory to Translation. Journal of Foreign Languages, vol 3, pp. 8-12, 2002.

Gilmour, Rachelle. Representing the Past:: a Literary Analysis of Narrative Historiography in the Book of Samuel. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

Paton, Alan, David Max Brown, and Zola Maseko. A Drink in the Passage. M-Net New Directions, 2002.

Wang, Xiaohui. “On the Depiction of Characters of” Drinking in the Passage” with Adaptation Theory.” Theory & Practice in

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