The Train from Rhodesia

by Nadine Gordimer

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What is the significance of the sand in "The Train from Rhodesia"?

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Sand has a very interesting significance in Nadine Gordimer's short story "The Train from Rhodesia." Perhaps the significance of first importance is the sand's significance as a symbol. It is a symbol best understood in contrast to the symbol of the train, which represents the British and their culture. The train also symbolizes the only point of connection and unity between members of the British society; it is an inorganic, mechanistic object and symbol. In contrast to the train, the sand symbolises the villagers in Rhodesia and their connection to each other; it contrasts to the train because sand is organic and natural, a part of life. Sand symbolizes the good of life for the villagers along with their common experience of nature and the forces of life that the villagers all experience. In addition, since the sand can have a dangerous aspect, as can any force or element of nature, sand also symbolizes personal defeats such as the young woman's shame when it "sounded in her ears like the sound of sand, pouring." To summarize, the sand symbolizes life "lapping" around the villagers and connecting them to nature and to each other, while at the same time providing the symbol for individual defeat because of the danger that is inherent in all forces of nature.

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