In Mehring, Gordimer has created a protagonist who dominates the story. Mehring is a calculating businessman, much of whose life is spent traveling abroad, from continent to continent, peddling the pig iron which has made him rich. Yet the attending associations of industrial South Africa are never made explicit. Gordimer never allows the reader to witness the conditions of work for labor or management. It is Mehring himself, not the creation of wealth, with which the author is concerned.
Corporate business, for Mehring, is clinical, a means to a material end. Mehring is not, however, a passionless character. Sexual desire is a strong impulse for him. Handsome and affluent, Mehring pursues women of every sort, whether his mistress or a friend’s young daughter or an anonymous teenage passenger on a plane.
Apart from women, Mehring’s chief enjoyment is his farm. Located near the city, the farm is easily accessible, and Mehring spends almost every weekend there. Originally, the farm was bought for tax purposes, but Mehring soon becomes absorbed in the farm’s maintenance, believing that good land ought to be used productively. Though he learns much about agriculture and husbandry, Mehring is only a weekend farmer; he has familiarized himself with the land, yet he remains, in a real sense, a stranger.
The other characters of the novel are less well developed. Mehring’s mistress, curiously, is a liberal, antiestablishment figure,...
(The entire section is 511 words.)