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One of the most dominant themes in the Gordimer short story revolves around the intensely unsettling reality of Apartheid. The racial condition that facilitates Apartheid is the backdrop to the story. Racial prejudice impacts all of the characters in some form or another. This theme underscores and undercuts the relationships in the story. It is Apartheid and racial injustice that moves Sonny into a realm of political activism, causing the emotional disruption to his family.
In an intricate move, Gordimer also uses the issue of race as a social construct to help explain human interactions. The impact of race on personal relationships becomes evident when Will describes Hannah: “Of course she is blonde. The wet dreams I have, a schoolboy who’s never slept with a woman, are blonde. It's an infection brought to us by the laws that have decided what we are, and what they are- the blond ones." Such a statement painfully reflects how race and ethnicity are social constructs that have manifested themselves within the psyche of the individual. The issue of race brought on by the social prejudice of Apartheid is a significant theme in the novel.
From this, Gordimer is able to pivot to the complexity within human relationships. This complexity within the emotional realm is another theme in My Son's Story. No relationship in the novel is direct, as each one is the result of complex intersections of other ones. For example, the relationship between Sonny and Aila might seem direct and traditional. Yet, as Sonny becomes more political, its alienating qualities makes it complex. A force of social unity ends up becoming more divisive. In Aila's embrace of political activism, greater human complexity is seen. The simplicity that she once craved in her traditional relationship with Sonny becomes supplanted with a revolutionary fervor that makes Sonny's activism tame by comparison.
Sonny struggles to find emotional contentment with his revolutionary activities, his relationship with Hannah, and his role as a husband and father. Sonny struggles with this aspect of his identity, reflective of the complexity within his being. Political activism and personal disenchantment becomes a part of Sonny's identity, adding to even more complexity to his characterization. Part of this complexity is seen in how the women in Sonny's life become the political force that he intended to be. The theme of complexity within human relationships is integral to the thematic understanding of My Son's Story.
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