A recurring theme in The Goat Herder, manifesting itself on both sides of the cultural divide, is the breaking away from the older generation, the loosening of traditional and idealistic shackles to embrace fresh, new, modern dreams to which every generation aspires.
Literature is full of these examples, especially Jewish literature which has an abundance of material on the subject. In my Master’s thesis, in fact, I wrote about the quest for a new identity as portrayed in the works of Ehrenburg and Babel. This is probably the reason, albeit without intention, that I have continued this in The Goat Herder; the generation gap between the old East European ‘shtetl’ Jew and the younger, vibrant, trendy generation who wants and needs to release the grip of antequated ideologies and prejudaces.
Nathi, the Zulu herd boy, is torn between his love and respect for his culture, family traditions, rituals and beliefs on the one hand, and his intense desire to explore new and exciting horizons, on the other. While he feels it is his duty to preserve, at least, some of his Zulu traditions, he is pulled inevitably to the reality of modern city life where there is no poverty and hardship as he knows it.
Ruth, too, as her father before her, experiences this duality and conflict. As a consequence of the rejection of the traditional view of things, her Jewish identity, the relationship of the Jew to the non-Jew, in this case a Zulu, and the very nature of Jewish religion are all matters that require new formulations. The Jewish people have always had to lead a dual existence: their own and that of the country where they have lived, which for them became a new motherland, a ‘stepmother’ land.
Ruth’s father Zecharia, also goes through this struggle between fathers and sons. He can no longer reconcile himself with the ‘ghetto’ mentality. His father does not let go of his traditions and customs and Zecharia identifies with the ‘real’, ‘normal’ world.
The Goat Herder illuminates the conflict of Zulu tribal consciousness (in Nathi’s case) and Jewish identity (in Ruth’s case), the conflict of two worlds, physical and spiritual, moral and cultural.