Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gordimer relies heavily on imagery to illuminate certain aspects of Joyce McCoy’s character. When Gordimer first introduces Joyce, she compares her to a pink, cold porcelain vase, compares Joyce’s face to the type of face found in a Marie Laurencin painting, and describes Joyce’s prettiness as “two-dimensional.” When Joyce conducts her banal, almost incoherent conversation with her black dancing partner, the author describes her voice as “small” and “flat.” The reader’s impression of Joyce’s superficiality is further reinforced by her initial remarks concerning Jessica Malherbe: an observation of how “nice” the antiapartheid activist looks, and of how good that woman’s perfume is. The author again mentions how Jessica looks, using Joyce’s original words, when Joyce first puts the question to Jessica about joining the demonstration; the author thereby implies that the original sensory impression is still uppermost in Joyce’s mind. When Joyce first puts the question to Jessica, Joyce’s face is described as “blank” and “exquisite,” and her manner of making the request is compared to that of someone requesting an invitation to a dinner party. With such techniques, the author gives a vivid picture of a young woman who is all pretty surface and has no intellectual depth.

In charting Joyce’s road to political commitment, Gordimer plays again and again on olfactory imagery. Twice in the story, Joyce becomes aware of the smell of death and flowers, identified with the odor...

(The entire section is 621 words.)