July's People Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series) - Essay

Nadine Gordimer

Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

Nadine Gordimer often uses the years immediately preceding her writing as the setting for her novels, but she departs from this pattern in July’s People. In imagining a possible scenario for the revolution for majority rule in South Africa, Gordimer places the action in the near future. Like George Orwell’s political novel Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), July’s People is set in the early 1980’s and addresses the issue of government oppression. Published in 1981, ten years before the last apartheid law was repealed, the novel contains historical references to demonstrations against apartheid such as the Soweto riots of 1976. Unlike Orwell’s work, however, Gordimer’s novel concentrates more on character than on a system of government. Her focus is on how characters are shaped by politics rather than on politics itself.

By blending history with an imagined narrative, July’s People provides a good opportunity for interdisciplinary study. The novel is best read within the context of South African history, but in no way does it attempt to present an actual revolution. Rather, it offers a vision of how people living through such a period might be affected. Compact and focused, July’s People, Gordimer’s eighth novel, was one of three works singled out for praise when she received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.