Sodipe and Andre on Gordimer

Immanuel Mitchell-Sodipe ’18 – Nadine Gordimer sets her novel, July’s People in the context of a fictional civil war in South Africa in which the Black South Africans overthrow the system of apartheid — the very system from which the two main characters, Maureen and Bamford Smales (a married couple of white liberals) benefit from, though they may seem to show “objection” to it. There’s a slew of symbolism in this novel, all in an attempt to describe what revolution means for white South Africans — the conservatives and the liberal types alike. Gordimer also makes an attempt to pull back the veil of marriage and white middle class sensibilities, sentiments and values. The Smales’ go from having a Black servant (July) to having a Black savior (still, July). Later on in the book, there is a scene in which Bamford Smales loses his gun — a symbol of the white power nationalist structure. In class, we talked about the possibility of Maureen being attracted to July, and if this is the case, then the novel shows a complete revolution. The white power structure, involving its institutions of course but also its manifestations, were overthrown in the civil war. We see the patriarchal nation state (Bamford) lose its power (gun). We see Bamford emasculated by Maureen’s rejection of her husband for July. In thinking about this novel — thinking about the civil war and revolution — it is easy for me to think about Soweto. It is easy for me to figure that this is what Soweto could have meant for the Black South Africans.

Derek Andre ’16 – Over the past week, our class read the 1981 novel July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. The novel exists in an alternate history where black uprisings in Apartheid South Africa, such as the Soweto Uprising, were successful in toppling the Apartheid regime. Because of the overthrow, the Smales family, a family of white liberals, are smuggled out of town by their black servant July. Over the course of the book the power dynamic between the former-oppressors and the former-oppressed flip to a point where July, toward the end of the novel, becomes the dominant force in the relationship. In sum, July’s People is an interesting take on the ways that power can shift based on outside forces. I found it interesting, having completed the book, how the nature of the novel can change depending on the perspective of the reader, especially those in South Africa at the time of the novel’s publishing. For White-South Africa in 1981, it’s hard to imagine this work as anything less than a perverse, dystopian fiction. For Black-South Africa, the novel was, in some ways, a beacon of hope that their efforts, both militaristic and peaceful, could be successful and that they would come to dominate the country in the coming years. To be fair, this does seem to be the case for most literature, but the stark difference between the two perspectives seems to be especially noticeable here.