The Train from Rhodesia

by Nadine Gordimer

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What is the main idea of "The Train from Rhodesia"?

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The story protests the policy of apartheid (complete racial segregation) as it existed in South Africa during the middle and latter part of the 1900s. "The Train from Rhodesia" shows the damaging effects of apartheid on whites and natives alike.

The premise of the story is the arrival of a train full of white tourists at a rural station far from the city. The natives who greet the train are impoverished, powerless, and hungry. Barefoot children beg for pennies. Dogs forage for scraps. The adults, desperate for money, try to sell hand-carved souvenirs to the tourists on the train. The racial policies of their country have consigned them to a hand-to-mouth existence, devoid of human sympathy.

The white people on the train are exemplified by a young couple. The young man bargains with an old native over the price of a carved lion his wife had admired but rejected because of its price. He continues to bargain "for fun" until the train starts to pull out and the old man in desperation sells the lion for far less than its value. His wife is angry and appalled by his behavior. She puts the lion aside. Her conscience bothers her that the old man was forced by poverty to accept so little. Her husband understands nothing about her feelings, what he has done, or what he has witnessed at the station. See the enotes links below for a complete summary of the story and other study aids.


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