Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gordimer is known for her treatment of complex social and political issues, and “The Defeated” is no exception. At the same time, the story is simply told, enjoyable for its abundance of descriptive detail, and without overt judgment or moralizing. Gordimer effectively employs irony and contrast in her story. She sets up a strong socioeconomic contrast in the backgrounds of the narrator and Miriam. The narrator lives in a quiet, easily afforded home, while Miriam lives in a store, where she witnesses her parents’ daily struggle for survival. In this way, Gordimer sets up the expectation that Miriam will be more appreciative of her gains because her parents must work day and night to fund her education. Another expectation is that Mr. Saiyetovitz will empathize with others who share his plight. All of these expectations, when they are foiled, make Gordimer’s portrayal of the class system even more powerful and frightening than could be conveyed by her vivid descriptions alone.

Another feature of Gordimer’s style that makes the story so powerful is that the narrator, in effect, reports on the action instead of interpreting it. The evidence laid out before the reader during the course of the narrative becomes almost overwhelming by the end of the story. The narrator’s reporting leads the reader through a series of predictions and disappointments about predictions about the action and characters. This process builds tension in the reader, as well as suspense, causing the final picture of the Saiyetovitzes to appear all the more anguished. Perhaps it is Gordimer’s aim that the reader undergo some of the tension experienced by the South African “defeated.”