Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main theme of the story is the possibility of a radical leap from political apathy to wholehearted involvement in a just cause. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist is a pretty but shallow woman; at the end of the story, she has been arrested for an act of civil disobedience and has come to feel the righteousness of the blacks’ fight against apartheid, and to make their cause her own. Such a conversion to political activism is, for Joyce, not a matter of intellectual ratiocination; nobody tries to convince her to join the demonstration. Instead, the struggle takes place almost entirely within Joyce’s emotions.

The first milestone in Joyce’s move toward emotional involvement in the black cause is her dance with a black man at the multiracial party. As Joyce dances with Eddie Ntwala, the author looks inside Joyce’s mind, showing both the protagonist’s anxious queries to herself about what she is feeling and her relief that she still feels “nothing.” Here, in this moment of introspection, the reader sees the beginning of the struggle for Joyce’s soul between apathy and commitment. The second milestone is Joyce’s inner struggle with her emotions at Jessica’s apartment, a struggle that leads to her final decision to keep her earlier promise to take part in the demonstration.

The third and final milestone occurs just after her arrest, when the police are taking down the names of the demonstrators. By this time, the...

(The entire section is 544 words.)