Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Soldier’s Embrace” has a curious sense of reflecting the same kind of ambiguous relationship between blacks and whites in Africa with the arrival of independence that must have been experienced by blacks and whites in some areas of the American South after the Civil War. The white couple are liberals and proud of it, taking special pride in welcoming into their home the radical black priest and befriending the poor black Chipande; they also feel a paternalistic attitude toward the servant Muchanga. What the story seems to emphasize is the double face of black-white relations, in which even as the white couple are innocent of a conscious prejudicial attitude toward the blacks, they inevitably seem to manifest such a prejudice. Regardless of what they do, they seem somehow to feel their superiority to the blacks. Even when they exhibit their liberal values, they are too self-conscious of their liberal gestures. This is not to make them particularly culpable, but rather to expose the difficult ambiguity of the white attitude toward the black people in Africa. The lawyer and his wife are not named because they represent the white liberal relationship with blacks in Africa that seems somehow inescapable.

There is no reason that the lawyer and his wife should leave the country except the simple fact that they are white, for they have supported the revolution in belief throughout. Gradually, however, they begin to feel more and more uncomfortable, which suggests that they felt comfortable before only because, even though they never expressed the desire for domination, they were in the dominant position. It is easy to feel liberal toward someone different when one is in a position of power over the other—not so easy when the tables are turned. The subtle revelation that the turning of the tables manifests is what this story is really about.