The Moment Before the Gun Went Off

by Nadine Gordimer
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What do the kudu represent in "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off"?

In "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off," the family of kudu on Van der Vyver's property represents his love for the country and provides motivation for the ride he and Lucas take together. Additionally, the communication between Van der Vyver and Lucas when they spot the kudu just before the gun goes off illustrates the deep love they feel for each other.

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The short story "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" by Nadine Gordimer illustrates the complexity of the relationship between Black and white people during the apartheid era before free elections and majority rule in South Africa.

A white farmer named Marais Van der Vyver kills a young Black man named Lucas while they are out hunting together, and the incident becomes international news. To many, it is used as propaganda proving "white brutality against the blacks" in the country. However, as Gordimer makes clear as she gives details of the death and subsequent funeral, the shooting was truly an accident, and Van der Vyver was devastated when he learned that he had inadvertently killed the twenty-year-old man who was riding in the back of his truck. Gordimer clarifies at the end that Lucas was not Van der Vyver's employee, but rather his son. Although Vander Vyver had a white wife, he was evidently carrying on an affair with Lucas's mother.

The kudu in the story are important for several reasons. First of all, they show Van der Vyver's deep love for his country. The kudu buck that he was hunting is part of a family of kudus that he protects on his property. There is no profit in this, but Van der Vyver does it because "he is interested in wild life and sees it as the farmer's sacred duty to raise game as well as cattle."

Secondly, hunting the kudu provides the motivation for the ride that Van der Vyver and Lucas were taking together. They were out to accomplish a routine activity on the farm, and there was no reason for animosity between them.

Finally, when he spots the kudu, Lucas pounds on the roof of the truck to alert Van der Vyver. This is the moment alluded to in the title. "The moment before the gun went off was a moment of high excitement shared through the roof of the cab." This communication illustrates the deep love between father and son.

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