July's People Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)

Nadine Gordimer

Critical Context (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Nadine Gordimer was born in Springs in the Transvaal gold-mining district and reared, as she has put it, “on the soft side of the color bar.” In a previous novel, A World of Strangers (1958), she writes about the polarity of the South African people and the impossibility of achieving any true racial harmony. The main character is an English engineer come to South Africa on special assignment. In time, he believes that he has a sense of belonging but only “as a stranger among people who were strangers to each other.”

Apartheid is the one constant in the author’s unhappy homeland, and almost all of her characters are infected by its disease. July’s People reexplores this persistent theme but does not bore the reader by its repetition because of Gordimer’s success in infusing her characters with drama and personality. The action is contained and fairly localized but well-defined. Her vision is disturbingly pessimistic, especially about the prospects for South African liberalism, depicted here as essentially sterile and irrelevant.

The book possesses a fine sense of irony mixed with vivid realism, enabling one to forgive frequent stylistic eccentricities. Gordimer makes South Africa more than simply an exotic setting for conflict, but a character in itself, a basic element in changing, establishing, and molding the lives of all its people. African and European cultures, although in constant conflict and largely incompatible, are nevertheless interdependent and inextricably linked.