Nadine Gordimer’s protagonist is a masterfully drawn character, seen in the full context of her life and times (some details of which the reader learns in flashback). It is easy for the reader to believe that he knows virtually everything about Rosa Burger, but on deeper reflection one realizes that Rosa has secrets disclosed neither by her nor by her creator. (The reader comes to know this character about equally through authorial third-person and first-person narration.) It might be better to say that Gordimer, in her portrayal of Rosa, does not so much withhold certain things as merely give the reader hints of them, expecting him to make all the connections for himself. Sometimes this is not so easy to do; Gordimer, indeed, has a reputation for being a difficult writer—and an emotionally cold one. The question here would be whether Rosa has a “cold” personality or is simply so reticent (or is presented so sparingly) that the reader cannot be certain of her true state.
It would certainly be difficult to construct a full picture of Rosa’s sexuality. Gordimer, however, presents a poignant description of Rosa’s first teenage “passion”: At the age of seventeen, she was designated by the Party to act as the “fiancee” of a certain half-Portuguese Communist prisoner named Noel de Witt. Once a week, as his “legal relative,” she would visit him and pass along important messages. She took her role seriously and would shake a few drops of...
(The entire section is 516 words.)