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Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro
Textos y Contextos en Inglés MIVCI
............. Introduction ....................................................................................................................10 List of References.................................... 5...................... 4.........3 Historical background (1948-1994) ............. 2.......................................................................................................7 July’s People (1981).................July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum TABLE OF CO TE TS 1..... 3..3 Nadine Gordimer (1923-)..........................................14 Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 2 ..............
The racial segregationist movement of apartheid led many South African intellectuals to use their writings as powerful weapons against a system they did not believe in. or Coloured (of mixed race). An effect of the law was to exclude non-Whites from living in the most developed areas. Asian (Indians and Pakistanis). I TRODUCTIO This essay intends to explore the way in which the relationship between literature and historical context appears reflected in July’s People (1981). the novel’s fictitious revolution leaves the (white) reader with a disturbing feeling about what might happen in South Africa. A fourth category. Having legalized racial segregation through the previous Act. shines through both her language and literary images.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum 1. if the country’s black population overthrew the system of apartheid. and sexual in the second one) between people of different races was outlawed. HISTORICAL BACKGROU D (1948-1994) Apartheid (Afrikaans word for apartness) was a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the National Party (NP) South African government between 1948 and 1994. a novel by one of South Africa’s most world-renowned writers: Nadine Gordimer. Blacks and Indians were removed from areas classified for Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 3 . short stories and critical essays. we shall first of all present the historical backdrop against which Gordimer’s literary career has developed for so many years. the Afrikaner government further enforced the system of apartheid by a series of laws passed in the 1950s. we will then draw our attention to the nightmarish “interregnum” found in July’s People. 2. White. With the foundation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 (first as a British dominion). the system of apartheid was systematized and institutionalized under extensive legislation. racial segregation began to be officially implemented through The ative’s Land Act of 1913. deep down they share with apartheid supporters the same racial prejudices and lack of communication with black people. Nadine Gordimer’s strong commitment to this intellectual struggle has permeated most of her novels. despite their opposition to the system of apartheid. Once the historical and biographical background is set. In order to fulfil this purpose. It should be noted. The Group Areas Act (1950) further separated people by assigning racial groups to different residential and business sections in urban areas. that despite her social realism in depicting the plight of black people under this unfair system. any kind of union (marital in the first law. thousands of Coloureds. which. as we shall see. however. was added later. Gordimer’s futuristic novel is the writer’s attempt to make South Africa’s white liberals aware of the fact that. The implementation of the policy was made possible by The Population Registration Act of 1950. which put all South Africans into three racial categories: Bantu (black African). With the passing of The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) and The Immorality Act (1950). When the Afrikaner Nationalists (the National Party) came to power in 1948. This first piece of segregationist legislation was intended to restrict the ownership and acquisition of land by blacks throughout the four provinces of the Union of South Africa. to such a degree that some of her works were banned during the apartheid regime. Nadine Gordimer has always kept a strong sense of artistic individuality. which were restricted to Whites. Consequently. In the light of the uprisings of the 1970s.
one of those black men who were employed by a white household as domestic workers. This situation is deftly portrayed by Nadine Gordimer in July’s People.. public beaches. and how long the bearer had been employed. This document contained details on the bearer. ambulances. Paramount in this process of social discrimination was The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953). Tribal Authorities were set up and positions given to traditional Chiefs and Headmen. hospitals. This law. public swimming pools. thus attempting to turn South Africa into a country split into a white centre and a cluster of black states along its borders. buses. It should be noted that passes were issued for just one district. trains. Since jobs were so hard to find. African women had very little or no legal rights. race prejudice did not leave education unscathed. no access to education and no right to own property. eligibility requirements for a passport were extremely difficult for blacks to meet. for onlyblack schools and universities were created in the homelands. by having all ten bantustans (homelands) choose independence. did not deprive Non-whites of the right to work in White areas. public toilets. The aim was to ensure whites became the demographic majority within South Africa. July’s wife. the money must come. effectively stripping the black population of their South African citizenship. all black South-Africans over the age of sixteen had to carry a pass book at all times (Pass Laws Act. and transport. the citizens of the new independent states needed passports (not pass books) to work in White South Africa. where we find July. Martha. who became accountable for both the distribution of land and the well-being of their people. photograph. A turning point in the government’s Bantustan strategy was a new piece of legislation passed in 1970: The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act.The sun rises. The terrible ordeal black people went through under apartheid was twice as appalling for women as for men. This Act made every black South African a citizen of one of the homelands. refers to this situation as follows: “Across the seasons was laid the diuturnal one of being without a man. confining the holder only to that area. including buildings.. Striking as it may seem. 1952). nevertheless. The Pass Laws Act (1952) and The Group Areas Act (1950) highly contributed to a worsening of the condition of black women. Being without a valid pass made a person subject to arrest and trial Non-whites saw their social condition get even worse with the passing of The Bantu Authorities Act (1951) and The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act (1959). administered by what were supposed to be reestablished tribal organizations. but in order to be allowed to commute to one of these privileged areas. To provide some examples of such a terrible situation. These two Acts implied that these separate territorial governments would eventually become independent. which enforced segregation of all public facilities. the man must go” (Gordimer 1981: 83). From that moment. Racial discrimination in apartheid South Africa involved not only geographical separation (Grand apartheid). such as his/her fingerprints. These laws furthered the divisions between the races by creating ten African homelands. while men stayed in (white) urban areas. However. Indeed. the name of his/her employer. but also social inequity and intolerance (Petty apartheid). some pedestrian bridges and graveyards (among other facilities) were segregated. Due to his economic dependence on the Smales. working very hard to send their monthly wages to their families: “Most of the women of childbearing age had husbands who spent their lives in those cities the women had never seen” (Gordimer 1981: 83). as wives and children had to be left behind in the black homelands. many black women worked as agricultural workers in rural areas.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum white occupation. the moon sets. Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 4 . July could visit his family only once a year for a short period of time.
her husband comes back for a short period of time. The BCM. whippings. However. eventually leading to the country’s exclusion from the British Commonwealth of nations in 1961. where he remained until 1990. leaving 69 people dead and 187 wounded. One of these mass demonstrations took place at Sharpeville. their campaign would soon come to an end. in the mid-1970s. which has already been commented on. it is obvious that the system of apartheid separated and destroyed many black families. the government took several supreme measures. who had been hiding at a farm in Rivonia. including violence. the struggle within South Africa suffered a major setback. South Africa’s policies were subject to international scrutiny. With The Defiance Campaign of June 1952. Nelson Mandela. the ANC began to advocate a policy of open defiance and resistance to the system of apartheid. A number of black political groups. Nevertheless. Martha resigns herself to her role as a husbandless woman entangled in a cycle in which her husband’s long awaited visit is simply a part of nature’s eternal course: time goes by. the government banned both the ANC and the PAC. In the 1970s. who were forced to face up to the fact that they would no longer be together. with the arrest in 1963 of 19 ANC leaders.. and the Rivonia Trial. opposed apartheid by using a variety of tactics. together with The South Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 5 . and its subsequent change of status (from the Union of South Africa to the Republic of South Africa). among which we could mention the Suppression of Communism Act and the Public Safety Act. In the subsequent trial. often supported by sympathetic whites (one of them being Nadine Gordimer). This movement drew most of its support from high schools and higher education institutions. where a crowd of black people refused to carry their passes. Steve Biko (a black student leader) founded the Black Consciousness Movement. did not go unopposed. Among the most notable resistance movements were the ANC (African ational Congress) and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congres of Azania).July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum In this passage. boycotts and civil disobedience. The first thing in their agenda was a series of nationwide demonstrations against the Pass Laws. a group of disenchanted ANC members broke away from the ANC and formed the Pan Africanist Congress (led by Robert Sobukwe). the ANC (led by Nelson Mandela) encouraged black people to defy the segregationist laws through strikes. demonstrations. one of the defendants in that trial. and sabotage. After this terrible carnage. a new devotion came from the latest. giving rise to mass arrests by the segregationist government. This defying fervour soon spread throughout the country. which would empower and mobilize much of the urban black population. In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre.. The implementation and enforcement of apartheid. the government declared a state of emergency which lasted for 156 days. In 1959. youngest generation. Immediately. Sharpeville’s dreadful incident prompted both the ANC and PAC to run campaigns of sabotage and terrorism through their armed wings. This new legislation empowered the government to declare states of emergency and increased penalties (life sentences. After the banning of the ANC and PAC. Hence. The PAC called for blacks to demonstrate against pass books on 21 March 1960. and then he goes away. srikes. In the 1950s.) for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law. and was a major force in the introduction of new international sanctions against the South African government. The trial was condemned by the United Nations Security Council. ten leaders of the African ational Congress were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system. Once things had calmed down. was sentenced to jail.
The mechanism which most directly set the uprising in motion was the Afrikaans Medium Decree (1974). The fact that most of these liberation movements had a leftist or communist perspective can be explained by reference to the global power balance between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War. For this reason. in April 1976. played a major role in the mobilization of students that led to the Soweto uprisings (1976). The Soweto uprising lit the fuse of a nationwide protest that greatly endangered the survival of the segregationist regime.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum African Students’ Organisation (SASO). since Afrikaans was regarded by some as the language of the oppressor (by contrast. The protest was intended to be peaceful. children). The resentment was such that.. In the light of the uprisings of the 1970s. panic and chaos broke out. the apartheid system of South Africa lost two important allies. Riots in Soweto lasted for three more days. the ANC and PAC began to recruit emigrant students to join the armed struggle. both internationally and domestically.. In the meantime. One of the arrested leaders was Steve Biko. to be educated in militant struggle. the children attending one of the schools in Soweto went on strike.The blacks have Cubans flying from Moçambique and Namibia. many young people left South Africa.. the police began to fire shots into the crowd. which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50-50% ratio as languages of instruction. this would be thanks to the military and economic aid provided by both other neighbouring nations and Cuba: It’s a war. It’s not like that. any more. spurring some students’ associations to organize a mass rally for June 16. with guns. with a final death toll that varies from 200 to 700. 1976. Little by little.People have come back from Botswana and Zimbabwe. This power struggle is illustrated in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People. Surrounded by a mob of students (most of them. Nadine Gordimer provides the reader with a fictional account of the power reversal that could come about in South Africa. Their rebellion then spread to many other schools in Soweto. The victory of liberation leftist movements in these two countries showed that white colonialists could be beaten by military force. but when the crowd was confronted by the police. In this atmosphere of revolutionary awareness. thousands of black students walked from their schools to Orlando Stadium for a rally to protest against having to learn through Afrikaans at school. killing 23 people only on the first day. 1976. if black revolutionaries were successful in their overthrow of the system of apartheid. Outraged at the violence displayed by the apartheid government in Soweto. With the independence of the neighbouring nations of Angola and Mozambique. most of them to Tanzania... Zambia and Namibia. South Africa’s National Party government became more and more isolated. All kinds of things. Bombs (miming the throwing of a hand grenade). The revolutionary spirit ignited in Soweto led to mass protests all over South Africa. The following quotation from the novel makes it clear that if blacks succeeded in their revolt. students became more conscious of the major role they could play in overthrowing the white rule of apartheid. The policy was deeply unpopular. the white segregationist government was so afraid of the tide of hostility that was sweeping across the country that it urged police to raid all the black townships in search of ringleaders.The blacks have also got guns. (Gordimer 1981: 116-117) Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 6 . who died while he was in police custody. English was favoured as an important global lingua franca).. from Moçambique. On the morning of June 16.
. the chief fears that the black rebels (“Those people from Soweto” Gordimer 1981: 119) and those supported by both Russians and Cubans will “take this country of my nation” (Gordimer 1981: 119). but a kind of melting pot of many different black tribes: “They not our nation. where she got to know some important professionals across the colour bar. Her parents were both Jewish immigrants. published in 1949. she became interested in literature from an early age. Gordimer studied for a year at Witwaterstrand University. Being so isolated led her to read all that fell into her hands. but was largely home-bound as a child because of her mother’s fears that she had a weak heart. if that defence implies using weapons. Nadine Gordimer implies that. Contrary to Bam Smales’ belief that all black South Africans are members of “Mandela’s people and Sobubkwe’s people” (Gordimer 1981: 120). not all black people will be willing to fight for the defence of their own tribes. 3. The Lying Days. Shortly afterwards. the reader finds out that Nadine Gordimer’s vision of a future South Africa is rather pessimistic.I don’t know” (Gordimer 1981: 119). While taking classes in Johannesburg... Gordimer attended a Catholic convent school for some time. Nadine Gordimer is calling the reader’s attention to the fact that in a future overthrow of the apartheid regime. tribal chiefs will do anything they can to defend their own people (their own tribe). over two hundred short stories. and not “Mandela’s and Sobubkwe’s people”. for he takes sides with the revolutionary cause rather than with his own people (tribe): Daniel’s raised fist in greeting had seemed a matter of being fashionable. Nadine began to write at the age of nine. appeared in 1953. Gordimer endured the bleak Apartheid decades. in an eventual liberation of the country. ADI E GORDIMER (1923-) Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923 in Springs. Maureen shows July the deep resentment she feels at Daniel’s stealing of Bam’s gun. thus. Her first novel. Gordimer has written thirteen novels. ‘Cubas’: it was he who had supplied the identification when the chief could not name the foreigners he feared – So he’s gone to fight. a small mining town near Johannesburg. She collected many of these early stories in Face to Face. and her mother from London. they will learn to shoot their guns against those who may dispossess them of their land. refusing to move abroad as so many others did. the chief makes explicit mention of the fact that South Africa is not the homogeneous “black nation” (Gordimer 1981: 119) white liberals pride themselves on upholding. Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 7 . black South African writers. Over half a century. and to her vision of a postapartheid future. and her first short story was published in a South African magazine when she was only fifteen. Therefore. AmaZulu. baSotho. Gordimer continued to write. it is quite unlikely that all blacks will be eager to change the established order. publishing mostly in local South African magazines. In that sense. However. In their conversation with the chief. He only took what he had a right to (Gordimer 1981: 153) In this excerpt..July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum This passage is taken from the section dealing with the Smales’ visit to July’s tribal chief. This may be found in Daniel’s failure to comply with his allegiance to his tribal chief. at the end of July’s People. amaXhosa. and several volumes of essays. Her decision to remain in the country through the years of political repression has reflected her commitment to her racially divided society. Little bastard. In the early 1960s. we may well say that Nadine Gordimer became the voice for all the silenced. in the sense that in a hypothetical demise of apartheid. her father a watchmaker from Lithuania.
on the grounds that the novel was highly racist. In addition to the humanistic perspective typical of her first works. July’s People is a perfect example of what might happen in South Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 8 . The Late Bourgeois World was banned for almost a decade. the multiracial and multicultural stance upheld by the ANC in the early fifties was soon endangered by the africanist position proposed by the PAC.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum and particularly after the Sharpeville massacre. Gordimer has been able to gear her occidental literary background towards a more personal South African perspective. Her concern. it is important that we confine our attention to the literary development that this writer has experienced over the years. For example. it involved a war in which all the African (black) nation should stand up in arms against all the white population (without exceptions). when it was still listed as an illegal organization by the South African government. At that time. Once some biographical facts have been considered. she has been able to keep her social engagement apart from her artistic individuality. However. what really makes a writer is the tension arising “between standing apart [artistic individuality] and being fully involved” (Conversations 34-35. providing the reader with a very clear picture of how distressing and appalling life can be under the yoke of a segregationist regime. Humanistic liberalism advocates that racial differences may disappear. In the Rivonia Trial (1963). In spite of Gordimer’s socio-political commitment. Gordimer’s literary output has achieved international recognition. Gordimer became a close friend of Nelson Mandela and his defence lawyers. apartheid could not be overthrown simply by promoting intercultural communication. simply by ignoring them and by interacting and communicating with black people. cited in Baena 1998: 34). is to evoke by means of the individual character a broader political and historical totality. and July’s People was also banned for some time. it should be pointed out that Nadine Gordimer’s literary style is based upon the occidental literary tradition. First of all. This South African viewpoint has permeated most of her liteary output. she also regularly took part in antiapartheid demonstrations in South Africa. Despite her country’s reluctance to her works. Gordimer’s realism has its origins in the Hungarian philosopher and critic Georg Lukacks. Nadine Gordimer became actively involved in South African politics. cited in Baena 1998: 32) Nadine Gordimer’s first works are characterized by the humanistic liberal ideology that prevailed in the 1950s. Gordimer’s outspoken perspective led to the banning of several of her works. Ezekiel Mphahlele or Lionel Abrahams. culminating with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Surprisingly enough. with the passing of years. she joined the African National Congress. July’s People (among many other works) was removed in 2001 from school reading lists. In Nadine Gordimer’s words. Nadine Gordimer became acquainted with many African intellectuals. Throughout these years. and A World of Strangers was censored for twelve years. According to the Pan Africanist Congres. as shown in her highly acclaimed novels of the 1970s (The Conservationist and Burger’s Daughter). from the outset of her literary career. The initial humanistic optimism of the 1950s was gradually undermined by a series of historical and political events. and as such. Gordimer endowed her fiction with an intense narrative realism. and travelled internationally criticizing South Africa’s segregationist regime. Other works were forbidden for lesser amounts of time: Burger’s Daugher was censored for six months. among whom we could mention Lewis Nkosi. censorship has not yet disappeared from South Africa’s post-apartheid era. for instance. Some years later. two for lengthy periods of time. This segregationist regime was “an oppression of the black indigenous majority by a white settler minority” (Clingman 1986: 73.
A Guest of Honour (1971) marks a watershed in Nadine Gordimer’s artistic development. for two terrible historical events shattered the nationalist hopes of the black population: the Sharpeville massacre. Gordimer’s novels begin to depict the entire South-African society. Unable to come to terms with a new reality which she cannot understand. not only due to their futuristic nature. the character who most suffers the consequences of such “interregnum” is Maureen Smales. cited in Baena 1998: 40). These South-African works are important. Gordimer’s novels from the seventies and eighties offer a pessimistic perspective of the white humanistic liberalism typical of the fifties. coinciding with the publication of The Conservationist (1974). Maureen’s despair becomes apparent to the reader in the first pages of the novel: “Maureen was aware. As one might expect. Bearing this in mind. Coetzee. the early eighties also saw the publication of two other novels similar in nature to Gordimer’s: Promised Land by Karel Schoeman. Nadine Gordimer’s literary art was not immune to the course of events already mentioned. among them in the hut. including both urban environments and black rural areas. which means that Gordimer no longer provides only a white standpoint in her works. in respect of her growing engagement with an exclusively African perspective. The stark contrast between white urban areas and black rural villages is wonderfully portrayed in July’s People. Bruce King explains Gordimer’s shift in her literary perspective as follows: “The Conservationist [brought] a foreshadowing of the many voices. From that moment onwards. the unreliable or dislocated narration. Maureen finally decides to flee from her old life (her family. represented by the helicopter. Furthermore.M. her privileged position) in search of an unknown fate. but also to their presentation of the possible consequences that could arise from a future contact between colonizer and colonized. it is no wonder that some of the novels coming after A Guest of Honour contain rural areas to reflect an African tradition which has nothing to do with the white colonial urban areas. the material deprivation that Bam and Maureen Smales experience in rural South Africa. the confusion of facts with fantasies. Gordimer thinks that this situation will result in “a great diversity of morbid symptoms” (Nadine Gordimer 1981: epigraph). Gordimer’s postmodernism brings the reader closer to the African conflict. in the order of a day as she had always known it” (Nadine Gordimer 1981: 17) Nadine Gordimer was not the only South African writer depicting a revolutionary future in one of her novels. and the subsequent banning of both the ANC and the PAC. in time. as a result of which blacks will take over the privileged position formerly occupied by the whites. but tries to offer a general overview of the South-African society as a whole. Nadine Gordimer makes use of a fragmented and multiple perspective. This novel marks the starting point for Gordimer’s experimentation with postmodern and metafictional techniques. and the difficulty of adjusting to dependency on their Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 9 . In this novel.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum Africa if the black nation (as a whole) revolted against the white minority. July’s People is one of the best instances of a postmodern reality which is gradually falling apart. found in such works as Burger’s Daughter or July’s People” (Bruce King 1993: 3-4. Nadine Gordimer prophesies that South Africa’s future liberation might lead to “an explosion of roles” (Nadine Gordimer 1981:117). In the novel. This Africanist utopia did not last too long. In July’s People. as it offers a wide range of attitudes and opinions coming from the innermost psychology of her protagonists. and Waiting for the Barbarians by J. of not knowing where she was. The ideologogical evolution found in A Guest of Honour was immediately followed by a formal evolution. From then on. Besides July’s People. whereby she expresses a reality which is gradually becoming more twisted and complex.
Taking this idea into account. which was about to die. the Smales. liberal citizens. South Africa was getting closer to its eventual liberation. The apartheid government. but a reality whose achievement was not going to be plain sailing. Consequently. however. no matter Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 10 . Being liberal. This loss of personal identity is one of the possible effects that could be brought to light by a future contact between blacks (colonized) and whites (colonizers). if they were forced to live with black people under equal conditions. in a state of detached disbelief at his action .. To provide an example of the uselessness of the Smales’ liberal ideals in the novel’s “interregnum”. and the future system of racial equality. coupled with the gruesome repression by the apartheid system after the Soweto riots. the privileged position formerly occupied by the whites (‘colonizers’) is about to be taken over by the blacks (‘colonized’). 4.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum former servant cause them to lose their self-image as independent. withdrew five thousand rands in notes” Gordimer 1981: 7). With the new revolutionary fervour of the 1980s. This situation leads many white families to flee their homes in their comfortable residential districts. By introducing the reader to this family. which was struggling to be born. the following section will be devoted to a commentary on the “interregnum” Nadine Gordimer presents in July’s People. gracious.. The interval between these two events is what Antonio Gramsci’s epigraph refers to as “interregnum”. it becomes clear that July’s People was written against a backdrop of socio-political tension between “the old” system of racial segregation. The metaphorical nobody’s land resulting from such a situation gives rise to a “great diversity of morbid symptoms”. JULY’S PEOPLE (1981) Nadine Gordimer wrote July’s People at a time of widespread uncertainty about the future of South Africa. “turn out to be vital” (Gordimer 1981: 6) in the Smales’ successful escape. To sum up. July. In the middle of a widespread black revolt in South Africa. who offers them refuge at his mud and thatched hut village. brought the final liberation of the country closer to becoming a reality. One of these families. was not yet ready to hand over its power to the black population. July’s protection. however. born white pariah dogs in a black continent” (Gordimer 1981: 8). The resurgence of a revolutionary consciousness in the eighties. will not spare them the ordeal of having to suffer the consequences of such a terrible situation. The previous quotation may be taken as an illustration of the wide disjunction between the ideals associated with white liberalism and reality. Thus. and from humanistic liberalism to a fragmentary reality. find themselves forced to accept the help of their black servant. Nadine Gordimer’s literary career until the publication of July’s People (1981) proceeded as follows: from optimism to pessimism. together with Bam’s yellow bakkie (a little truck). Gordimer draws our attention to the fact that white liberals would discover the hypocrisy underlying their ideals. Nadine Gordimer attempts to highlight the difficult position many white liberal families found themselves in at that time: “they might find they had lived out their whole lives as they were. that they were extremely baffled when they were advised to withdraw all their money from the bank (“Bam. we may assert that South Africa at that time was in the throes of the revolutionary transformation that ten years later led to the final overthrow of the apartheid regime. Bam and Maureen Smales were so confident about the immunity they thought they would be granted as white liberals. It is precisely this “diversity of morbid symptoms” what July’s People is all about. The Smales are white liberals who have always been against the segregationist regime of apartheid.
July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum how hard they tried to “slough their privilege” (Gordimer 1981: 8). July points out correctly that Maureen has never really trusted him to take care of the things he was asked to. The fragmented reality their life comes down to by the end of the novel does not come about all of a sudden. the only information they can get from the radio is “the sounds of chaos. Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 11 . it is not at all hard to identify to whom each label is assigned: masters (whites) vs. they do not dare to ask him for the keys of the vehicle. The Smales are so obsessed with this device. Desperate for outside news. In the South-African segregationist context. if they are made at all. while the family was on holidays. July realizes that the Smales are not at all happy about him keeping their car: “You don’t like I must keep the keys” (Gordimer 1981: 69). more than anything else. hindering in its helpfulness – That’s not your work” (Gordimer 1981: 96). Bam constantly listens to the radio. Nevertheless. thus depriving their everyday lives of ‘meaning’: “If the children need eggs. From the very beginning. because it is the only link they have to the outside world from which they fled. Since July was the only person they could turn to for survival. Despite being so annoyed at July’s use of their car. July’s People is. whereby former masters become slaves and former slaves become masters. The only thing that helps the Smales make some sense of their pointless lives is the radio. I bring you more eggs.. crackling out of which the order that is the world has been won” (Gordimer 1981: 124). this was the starting point for July’s rise to power. July starts to take control of every possible aspect of the life of the Smales. Not being allowed to cater for themselves leads the Smales to become less independent and more subservient to July’s goodwill. In the argument about the keys of the bakkie. This power reversal is closely related to the Smales’ growing dependence on their former servant. the reader becomes aware that July does not want the Smales to act on their own. she would have found out that July felt as any other black did under the yoke of the apartheid regime. without the Smales’ consent. radio stations are attacked and broadcasts are made vague and less informative. By the end of the novel.He smiled at the pretensions of a child. By using the word “boy” and “master” in this exchange. for they know that they are now at the mercy of their former servant. blacks would always regard white liberals as “masters” (‘colonizers’). This event is in turn followed by July’s learning to drive the bakkie. the “interregnum” the reader is confronted with in July’s People makes it difficult to maintain such division. It is a gradual process that is inextricably linked to the Smales’ gradual loss of power. July. It is precisely at that moment that Maureen begins to realize that her white liberal ideology is nothing but a show. Referring to the notion of “masters” doubtlessly involves the existence of slaves. frantically searching for stations broadcasting any updates on the current situation of the war. rending. However. July is so enthusiastic about his new skill that he is very reluctant to give the keys of the car back to the Smales. If the communication between master and servant had been better. At one point in the novel. the fictional account of a power reversal. July emphasizes Maureen’s hypocritical liberal ideals: “you tell everybody you trust your good boy” (Gordimer 1981: 70). “there was nothing else to do but the impossible” (Gordimer 1981: 11). little by little. slaves (blacks). The former masters begin to lose their privilege at the very moment when they are forced to flee from their comfortable home to July’s village. the adults practically worship their radio. Throughout the novel. Gordimer’s depiction of a reality that is gradually falling apart is clearly reflected in the previous quotation.. roaring.
voices all his feelings about his relationship with the Smales. his was the English learned in kitchens. this “interregnum” unveils the Smales’ real ideology. as opposed to the way she calls him towards the middle of the novel: “a moody bastard” (Gordimer.. hurt and bafflement of someone whose former role (master) has been exploded. Maureen gathers all the irony. it was her practice to give some noncommittal sign or sound.the black man’s English was too poor to speak his mind” (Gordimer 1981: 97) As may be remembered from the second section of this paper. what July is trying to tell us is that Maureen was not the kind and benevolent white liberal who would treat her servant as a relative or a friend. In that attitude. This scene ends with Maureen posing herself provocatively against the hood of the bakkie. the Smales (particularly. a grotesque. not in English. her physical appearance is not that of a model. not the exchange of ideas and feelings (Gordimer 1981: 96) “When she didn’t understand him. it is only when he starts speaking in his native language that Maureen eventually becomes aware of all that he has gone through: “She was not his mother. factories and mines. Surprisingly enough. Power is related not only to political and economic superiority. Maureen) have to face up to the fact that they will never recover their former life. After so many years with July. no longer willing to appear as the “good” loyal servant.. From what we have said so far. but also to speech. those who had a high command of English were the white masters. In this passage.. Hence.neglected hair standing out wispy and rough” (Gordimer 1981: 153). consigning English to a secondary position (Afrikaans Medium Decree. In short. While white education was Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 12 . who. those in power are always those who find themselves entitled to modulate and understand language according to their sociopolitical loyalties. it becomes clear that July feels himself as a member of hiw own black tribe. The following excerpts will serve as an instance of linguistic power: “They could assume comprehension between them only if she kept away from even the most commonplace of abstractions. 1981: 32).July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum Despite having been against the use of such words as “boy” and “master” for so long.. The curious thing of this exchange is that July speaks to Maureen in his own native language. 1974). in the sense that this passage may be regarded as the novel’s climax. his wife. his people” (Gordimer 1981: 152). 1981: 57). It was based on orders and responses.. but a kind of caricature of an attractive middle-aged white woman: “She lurched over and posed herself. Understood everything” (Gordimer 1981: 152).. his sister. his friend. like a model in an advertisment. July. Maureen’s resentment about this reversal of roles may be shown in the way she refers to July at the beginning of the novel: “a good man” (Gordimer. and not as part of the group of privileged white liberals. If losing their bakkie speeded up the Smales’ growing subservience to July. As one might expect. Maureen “understood although she knew no word. the stealing of Bam’s gun by Daniel brings about the final and complete reversal of roles (master-servant). Nonetheless. to a greater or a lesser extent. surely the role played by language in July’s People has not gone unnoticed.sweat coarsened forehead. Black South-African schools based most of their instruction either on Afrikaans or on tribal languages..Bam did not have this skill and often irritated him by a quick answer that made it clear. had also benefited from the apartheid regime. Maureen and July’s final row over the disappearance of the gun is of critical importance. Having been stripped of the only objects reminding them of their former white power (the bakkie and the gun).
Bam and Maureen. where relationships have become undefined..). factories and mines”. while adults do not. The reason for such successful adaptation on the part of the children lies in the fact that children play. find it so hard to become independent: “her children had survived in their own ability to ignore the precautions it was impossible for her to maintain for them. bantu education only intended to supply future labourers with some little instruction. discrimination. This award-winning writer introduces us to a future South Africa where a lack of communication between races will continue to be a major problem. What I mean is that the only thing children are concerned with is playing and having fun. even vocabulary and language. are contaminated with all the values and ideas associated with white urban life in South Africa (privilege. She also calls our attention to the hypocrisy underlying white liberal ideals. and for failing to recognize that their material well-being owes a great deal to the discriminatory policies of apartheid.. Gordimer probably thinks that all the children born after the overthrow of the apartheid regime will not be contaminated with the racial and social prejudices of their parents. social.) prejudices typical of adults. More often than not.. past and present. as adults. It seems that white South African liberals are criticized for their passivity in the anti-apartheid movement. and us (whites) and them (‘the others’: the blacks) are magnificently combined by Nadine Gordimer. Hence. The only ray of hope in Nadine Gordimer’s apocalyptic prophesy of a future South Africa rests on the new generations of South African children. Last but not least. CO CLUSIO July’s People inhabits a world where traditionally assumed roles and rules have been overturned. of paramount importance in July’s People is the role played by children. Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 13 .July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum aimed at obtaining white professionals (doctors. It is precisely this lack of communication that challenges all the preconceptions Bam and Maureen Smales had about July. Nadine Gordimer uses the children’s relationships to cast some light on those of the adults. unlike their children. they have not yet been contaminated with the (racial. This dichotomy highly contributes to explaining why Bam and Maureen. has been called into question. In this novel. the immediate consequence of such lack of linguistic competence was an uncomfortable miscommunication between masters and servants (“Bam did not have this skill”). whereas the children are too young to have been completely contaminated or influenced by adulthood. lawyers..). In comparison with the great pains taken by Bam and Maureen to adapt to the new situation. Roy.” (Gordimer 1981: 123) 5. it is no wonder that Gordimer refers to July’s English as that language variety “learned in kitchens. Gina and Victor quickly get used to July’s village.. where everything. Their adaptation is so great that they even begin to acquire the language of the other black children..
Available from: http://en.html [accessed 10 January 2008] WIKIPEDIA. Available from: http://www. P. adine Gordimer.com/julys-people/ [accessed 10 January 2008] GARCÍA RAMIREZ. adine Gordimer: Perspectiva. Introducción al Estudio de la Literatura Africana en Lengua Inglesa. 2008. N. NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadine_Gordimer [accessed 10 January 2008] WIKIPEDIA. Identidad.July’s People (1981): South Africa’s Interregnum 6. South Africa under Apartheid.wikipedia. Jaén: Universidad de Jaén.sg/post/sa/gordimer/gordimerbio. 2008.enotes. adine Gordimer. July’s People. 1998. 2008. GORDIMER. Imaginación.nus. Available from: http://en. 2008. Available from: http://www.edu. London: Penguin Books. THE FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA.org/wiki/Apartheid [accessed 10 January 2008] Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro MIVCI 14 .usp. 1981. Salamanca: Ediciones Colegio de España. 1999. THE FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA. ENOTES. July’s People. R. LIST OF REFERE CES BAENA MOLINA.
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