Burger's Daughter

by Nadine Gordimer

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476

Rosamarie Burger grows up in the shadow of her Communist parents’ political and social activism in apartheid-era South Africa. She and her parents are white, of Afrikaner descent. Her parents' ethical stand opposing segregationist society often lands them in jail, where, as a teenager, Rosa goes to take them needed supplies. Although she admires their principled stance, she needs to figure out who she is as a person, which requires a stay outside her country.

As Rosa later reflects, her knowledge of the situation was partial but her concern for her mother was real, as shown when she takes blankets and other supplies to the jail.

[M]y parents had been expecting to be picked up for several weeks. Of course, when it happened, and they took my mother, the reality must have been different from the acceptance in advance; it’s impossible to conquer all fear and loss by preparation. There are always sources of loss and desolation that aren’t taken into account because no one knows what they will be. I just knew that my mother, inside, would know, when she got the things I was holding, that I had been outside; we were connected.

While both parents have frequently been jailed for actual or trumped-up legal violations, the regime finally decides to make an example of her father by leveling more serious charges against him. In court, he speaks eloquently at length of his convictions and of the evils of apartheid. When he is convicted, Rosa later recalls the reactions and the way they were reported.

They heard him out: the last words of the condemned man and the last judgment on those who had condemned him, the judge learnedly and scrupulously impartial within the white man’s laws, the secret police and the uniformed police who enforce them, the white people, his own people, who made the laws. The sentence was what her father knew what was coming to him; and she and the lawyers and everyone around them throughout the trial knew was coming. The newspapers reported a ‘gasp through the court’ when the judge pronounced sentence of imprisonment for life. She did not hear any gasp.

Rosa understands that a life sentence is a death sentence, and, in fact, her father does die in prison. Her travels in France and England, despite providing a distraction and acquainting her with circumstances not governed by legal race-based segregation, prove less fulfilling than she had hoped. When she returns to South Africa, she acknowledges that she must face not only her status as the daughter of the activist, and many say martyr, Peter Burger, but also her—and her family’s—position of white privilege. As Afrikaners, they were

secure in the sanctions of family, church, law—and all these contained in the ultimate sanction of colour, that was maintained without question . . .

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access