The Bench

The following excerpt is from a short story set in South Africa, where apartheid, the official policy of racial segregation, was strictly enforced for many years. The laws under apartheid denied blacks certain human rights.

Directions: As you read the excerpt, be aware of how the setting influences Karlie And his actions. Then choose the best answer to each question that follows.


Here was his challenge! The bench. The railway bench with “Europeans Only” neatly painted on it in white. For one moment it symbolized all the misery of the plural South s African society. Here was his challenge to the rights of a man. Here it stood. A perfectly ordinary wooden railway bench, like thousands of others in South Africa.

His challenge. That bench now had concentrated in it all the evils of a system he could not understand and he felt a victim of it was the obstacle between himself and humanity. If he sat on it, he was a man. If he was afraid he denied himself membership as a human being in a human society. He almost had visions of righting this pernicious system, if he only sat down on that bench. Here was his chance he, Karlie, would challenge.

He seemed perfectly calm when he sat down on the bench, but inside his heart was thumping wildly. Two conflicting ideas now, throbbed through him. The one said, “I have no right to sit on this bench.” The other was the voice of anew religion and said, “Why have no right to sit on this bench? The one voice spoke of the past, of the servile position he had occupied on the farm, of his father, and his father’s father who were born black, lived like blacks and died like mules. The other voice spoke of new horizons and said, “Karlie, you are a man. You have dared what your father and your father’s father would not have dared. You will die like a man.”

-Excerpted from “The Bench” by Richard Rive, 1960

  1. In Karlie’s eyes, what does the bench represent?
  • a peaceful place to rest
  • the European railway system
  • an unreasonable fear of whites
  • the importance of obeying the law
  • the pain of racial segregation
  1. What outside conflict triggers Karlie’s inner conflict in paragraph 3?
  • A conflict with
  • his father
  • his grandfather
  • South African society
  • the bench
  • European police
  1. Which of the following words best describes Karlie’s behavior?
  • calm
  • courageous
  • reckless
  • silly
  • cowardly
  1. If Karlie were living in the United States today, which of the following would he probably support?
  • people opposed to school busing
  • stronger law enforcement
  • financial aid to foreign countries
  • discrimination against protesters
  • the human rights movement.