The Moment Before the Gun Went Off

by Nadine Gordimer

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What is the setting of "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off"?

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The setting of "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" is a farm in South Africa toward the end of the apartheid era.

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Nadine Gordimer's short story "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" is set on and around the farm of Marais Van der Vyver in South Africa toward the end of the apartheid era. There is a reference to the repeal of the Immorality Act, which prohibited sexual relationships between Black and white people. This prohibition was lifted in 1985, meaning that the story must take place in or after this year. There are also references to the international pressure on South Africa from the United Nations and the foreign media, which suggests a date in the late 1980s.

There is little physical detail about the farm and its surroundings. Marais inherited his father's best farm, so it is presumably a reasonably prosperous enterprise and one that employs a number of farm workers. The farmhouse and garden are surrounded by a tall, barbed-wire security fence, and there is an aerial "soaring like a flag-pole in the back yard." There are also plenty of farm vehicles, also mounted with aerials for security. The details suggest a well-run, orderly environment in the tense atmosphere of South Africa just before apartheid ended, an environment in which chaos was always threatening to engulf the country. In this sense, the farm functions as synecdoche for the nation.

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