South African Literature
By Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. This novel, published in 1981, dramatizes the time of fearsome revolutionary transition that is hinted at in Paton's novel and that haunted South African consciousness for decades. What we see, however, are not the violence and the fighting that are spoken of, but the effects on the white bourgeois Smales family of their fleeing the city and being harbored in the distant small village of July, their African domestic servant. With the disappearance of the socio-economic structure that had maintained not only the master-servant relationship but their very identities, Maureen Smales, the central character, experiences the disintegration of what she had thought was a reasonable and humane bond with July (whose real name, she discovers, is Mwawate). At the same time her roles as wife and mother seem to evaporate. The protagonists find among other things that they have no common vocabulary with which to handle the new situation that they are in. The significance of the novel is not confined to a particular era or a particular place.
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