The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Mehring, the protagonist, a wealthy South African industrialist and amateur farmer. A large, middle-aged man with graying sideburns, Mehring is attractive to women and a popular addition to dinner parties. He is a frequent international traveler and knows much about base metals but nothing about art, music, or poetry. He has many acquaintances but no close relationships or real friends in his life: His wife left him eight years ago, his son and he have nothing to say to each other, his mistress has left South Africa, and the black laborers on the farm largely ignore him. What he does have is a 400-acre farm, which he bought intending to use it for rendezvous with his mistress, who visited the farm only once. Mehring attempts to control his land, to keep it organized and perfect, in the face of unconquerable natural and political forces.

Antonia Mancebo

Antonia Mancebo, Mehring’s mistress. In her thirties, she has an olive complexion and straight dark hair with only one or two strands of gray, which she does not bother to pluck. She does not, Mehring says, have a beautiful body. Antonia is married to a professor who is often away, but she has close ties to her friends, who include blacks and revolutionaries. She frequently marches in antiapartheid demonstrations and has close brushes with the law. Antonia taunts Mehring for his conservative beliefs, his power, and his money. She cannot understand why he does not leave the farm as it is rather than trying to shape it into his image of what it...

(The entire section is 636 words.)