Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Rainbow Rowell

Kayla Grady 

Apartheid and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

Rainbow Rowell’s Depiction of Unconventional Love and Happy Endings

During apartheid in South Africa, the fundamental right of marriage was violated. The South African government divided people into four different racial categories: White, Asian, Coloured, and Black. Marriage laws reflected the systematic criminalization of non-white South Africans. Under the apartheid system, many South Africans were denied basic rights and freedoms as there were multiple laws that prohibited blacks or “coloured” from marrying who they loved solely on the basis race. The government wrote and enacted laws to legally ban any mixed marriage, such as the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Immorality Act of 1949. Despite these laws, mixed marriages still existed and children born from mixed couples were considered a punishable “crime.” Mixed marriages and biracial children were considered a crime by the government, because it threatened white supremacy, power, and authority. Consequences for mixed couples were cruel, and in most cases, worse for the non-white person in the relationship.

Contrary to the experience of mixed race couples during apartheid, Rainbow Rowell’s main characters find that there is no right way that love must look, and she demonstrates that a happy ending can exist for any couple -- though it may not appear as one at first. In her novels, Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Carry On, Rowell uses her characters’ unconventional relationships as a way of challenging society's image of a “normal” relationship. Rowell proves through her novels that, though not every couple ends up together, the best relationships help each person to grown as an individual. In Eleanor and Park, the title characters are of two different races as well as social classes. While these differences in social classes and race may hold some couples back, Eleanor and Park fall in love and help one another to gain confidence in themselves, and learn to accept their identities.Through this, Rowell shows that there is no one conventional form of love, and that different relationships can produce different kinds of fulfillment.

Major Works Consulted:

Beck, Roger. The History of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
“Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Act No 55 of 1949." South African History Online. Accessed January 26, 2017. marriages- act,-act-no-55-of-1949.
Rowell, Rainbow. Carry On. New York: St. Martin’s, 2015.
---. Eleanor and Park. New York: St. Martin’s, 2012.
Photo Credit: "Rainbow Rowell." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.