Form and Content
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
The novel opens with July bringing tea to Maureen and Bamford Smales in bed as they wake one morning. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is far from a normal day: The Smales family and their servant July have driven for three days and nights through fields, staying off roads, to escape the violence in Johannesburg. A revolution to wrest control of South Africa from the white minority has begun. Instead of awakening in their seven-room suburban home, the Smales find themselves in a one-room circular hut that belongs to July’s mother.
In twenty short chapters—unnumbered and untitled—July’s People follows the lives of the Smales family in the rural settlement for about a month. Stripped of their routine and away from their home, the family begins to disintegrate. The three children meld into the community, relying less on their parents. The children adjust rather quickly, finding friends and adopting their habits and bits of their language with little difficulty. Maureen and Bamford, however, have a much more trying time psychologically. They discover how tenuous their control of their lives has been, how dependent they have been on convention, routine, and apartheid society. Although both Maureen and Bamford disapprove of minority rule in South Africa, they clearly have benefitted from being part of the privileged class. Now living in July’s rural settlement with only extended members of his family, they learn what it is like to be dependent on someone else for the basic necessities of life and what it is like to have no place in society. Author Nadine Gordimer has reversed the roles of servant and employers; now July is in charge, and Maureen and Bamford must adjust to living in a new environment where they do not know the language or the customs and where their presence can be dangerous to themselves as well as to others.
A successful architect, Bamford aids the village by setting up a tank so that the community can use rainwater instead of dangerous river water. Having the only gun in the settlement, he also supplies meat by hunting warthogs. Psychologically, however, he suffers seriously after his two symbols of power brought from Johannesburg—his truck and his gun—are taken from his control. The reader learns more about Maureen’s reaction to their new life, as the external narrator focuses more on her than on Bamford. Her past and present relationship with her husband and with July characterize Maureen’s conflict. In this new world, her husband is a stranger to her, someone in whom she has little interest and for whom she has less respect. In this new world, she also confronts the truth about her fifteen-year relationship with July. She thought that she treated him well until she understands what it is like to be dependent. By the end of the novel, Maureen’s life is deconstructed. She runs alone toward the sound of a helicopter, leaving behind the voices of her children and husband.
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*South Africa. Nadine Gordimer’s homeland, a country in Southern Africa in which legal segregation, or apartheid, sanctioned racial inequality for decades. Although in reality apartheid was abolished when constitutional reforms led to democratic elections in 1994, Gordimer’s novel describes a time when a long-feared civil war between blacks and whites has erupted. Major airports have closed due to antiaircraft fire, and ports have been bombed or blockaded. Black revolutionaries have received arms and military assistance from Russia and Cuba. Volunteers from neighboring countries have also joined the revolutionaries, adding to their strength. The Smales family, although sympathetic to reforms to improve the lives of blacks, have nevertheless lived the privileged life of whites and fear that the revolutionaries will find, torture, and kill them.
Hut. Dwelling in which the Smaleses take refuge. The importance of the hut as a setting is apparent as Maureen Smales, wife and mother, awakens slowly in the opening segment of the novel. It is the Smaleses’ first morning in the hut, and their servant July has brought them tea, a common and expected South African custom.
July’s efforts to care for the Smaleses in the manner to which they have become accustomed contrasts starkly with the reality of the dwelling. The hut loaned to the Smaleses is round and constructed of thick mud walls with a thatched roof. Its doorway is hung with a sack, and its floor is made of stamped mud and dung. Insects infest the interior, attracting chickens that enter and exit at will, adding fresh excrement to the already unhealthy conditions.
The hut is furnished with an iron bed and car seats removed from the “bakkie,” the recreational vehicle in which the Smaleses arrived. A paraffin lamp provides light, and the cooking facilities consist of a wood fire in front of the hut. During the first rain, the many insects in the roof are awakened and further disturb the human inhabitants. Gordimer uses these and other details to dramatize the Smaleses’ struggle to adjust to the rudimentary shelter.
July’s village. Small African settlement consisting of a few huts. The village also includes a goat kraal, chicken coops, and a pigpen of “thorny aloes, battered hub-caps, . . . plates of crumbling tin, mud bricks.” Water for drinking and washing comes from a nearby river. Although Maureen insists that the children drink purified water and use toilet paper, the children soon adopt village ways, drinking river water and wiping themselves with a stick. The husband and father, Bam, attempts to fit into the village by using his gun to hunt for and provide food, but Maureen has little to contribute. July dismisses her efforts, telling her that wood gathering, for example, is only for the village women. Attempting to help nevertheless, she is rejected by these same women, especially July’s mother, who scoffs at Maureen’s inability to differentiate between edible and poisonous plants. July, however, is at home in the village environment and this increases his independence. Gradually his role of servant to the Smaleses decreases, and without informing them of his intentions, he learns to drive the bakkie.
Bush. Also known as veld (or veldt) or savanna, high grassland plateaus dotted with shrubs and trees. The menacing bush stretches out in all directions from the village. Its immensity confines the family to the relative safety of the village. The shifting appearance of the bush, especially subject to changes of light and weather, renders it unfathomable. The bush hides everything, but sounds travel easily here. Voices of people passing, cattle trampling the undergrowth, and various other unidentifiable noises carry a frightening message. The feared revolutionaries may emerge from the bush with little or no warning. Each time July drives away in the bakkie the marooned and isolated Smaleses await his return.
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Nadine Gordimer’s time and place have been twentieth century Africa and she has presented to her readers for the past thirty years her knowledgeable perceptions of the chaotic political, military, and social conditions of that world. Had she been an inhabitant of another place in another time, however, her novels and stories would have been much the same, for Gordimer’s emphasis is on the human alienation, isolation, and solitude that occurs within the given framework of a particular situation, and the response, conditioned and conditional, that the concerned individuals make.
Out of her immersion in the culture of South Africa, Gordimer uses again and again as one of her principal themes the relationship between black and white people, but by varied techniques and stylistic devices as well as multiple character situations, she manages to keep this theme fresh and effectively reusable. Though the larger canvas of the political and social climate provides the backdrop, Gordimer operates on the level of the individual.
July’s People, in the first few paragraphs, immediately sets the theme. “’You like to have some cup of tea?’—July bent at the doorway and began that day for them as his kind has always done for their kind.” The novel grows more complex as Gordimer develops first the situation in which her characters find themselves and then the tensions that emerge consciously and unconsciously out of that situation.
Bamford Smales is a member of the architectural firm of Smales, Caprano & Partners, and Maureen Smales (née Hetherington) is “from Western Areas Gold Mines.” July, their black servant for fifteen years, has seemingly profited from an economically sound, secure, and comfortable existence in Johannesburg. On the surface he is considered to be almost one of the family, performing outside chores, provided with a white uniform when he works inside, serving meals and helping with the care and discipline of the Smales’ children, Gina, Royce, and Victor. July has been “for fifteen years in their home; of service, not servile, understanding their needs and likings, allying himself discreetly with their standards and even the disciplining and indulgence of the children.”
July has his own living quarters in the yard, where he is allowed to keep his “town woman,” Ellen, and where his friends can visit him. He visits his village on a fairly regular basis to take money and supplies to his village wife Martha, his child, and his aged mother.
In Gordimer’s fictional scenario, the labor strikes that began in 1980 in Soweto have continued and spread; without any work to occupy them, more and more black workers become hungry and angry. At last, approximately fifteen thousand blacks march against Johannesburg. In fear for their lives amid the burning, looting, and killing, the Smales are forced to flee with their servant, who becomes “frog prince, saviour, July.”
In panic the Smales grab what supplies and household articles they can (mostly useless) and with July, they escape in the yellow bakkie, a small truck Bam bought on his fortieth birthday as a hunting blind. For three days and three nights, Bam drives fearfully, while Maureen and the children hide beneath a tarpaulin, six hundred kilometers on back roads to July’s village. July’s mother resentfully gives up her mud hut so the white family can have a roof over their heads, and it is here as the novel begins that Maureen wakes as though from delirium, remembering first her childhood life and the more immediate past, to their present situation. “At first what fell into place was what was vanished, the past.”
Maureen bathes the three children and herself, using the same water because of its scarcity, in the small zinc bathtub July was wise enough to bring. In the ensuing days, a period of adjustment to an unbelievably bleak life-style—water that must be carried and boiled, and a diet of pap, greens, mealie-meal, porridge, goats’ milk, and pawpaws—sets in. “They had nothing.”
The story is rendered primarily from Maureen’s point of view, although Gordimer shifts to Martha and occasionally to omniscience. Although July’s feelings and actions are most important to the progression of the novel, Gordimer never allows the reader access to his mind; this is an effective technique, for it creates an ambiguous tension as to July’s true feelings. All the main characters assume responsibility for explaining July’s motives, but because July never expresses his thoughts and guards his privacy (even living apart from his wife in his own hut, remaining a product of a city environment), he is enigmatic, godlike, as he cares for and manipulates his people to suit his purpose, whatever it may be.
In a world where the Smales are virtually prisoners, July’s mother is unhappy at being dispossessed, and his wife is afraid the white family will bring harm, July is the only character who remains stable. Gordimer’s title, July’s People, takes on a double meaning as it becomes increasingly clearer that July has two families to which he is dedicated and for which he feels responsibility. The subliminal tensions that underly both the apparently satisfactory family-servant relationship and July’s own family situation are evident only as Gordimer skillfully develops the increasing tensions to a point of possible explosion.
From the black-white, boss-servant relationship in Johannesburg, the reader now experiences a complete role-reversal as the Smales find themselves dependent upon July, his family, and the population of the village. The children, in the nature of children, make friends easily, but it is not easy for the adults. Feeling they must not allow July to continue serving them since they are literally his guests, Maureen tries, with little success at acceptance, to gather food with the native women from the fields; at first they ignore her, then laugh at her white, purple-veined legs beneath her rolled-up jeans. Bam’s claim to interest, more than acceptance, is his gun. When July informs the Smales they must appear before the village chief to seek his approval to remain in the village (an empty gesture since he now has little power as chief), it is the gun and the expected opportunity to fire it that has the greatest effect on his decision. The gun is responsible for sexual rejuvenation between Bam and Maureen and for short-lived tribal communion when Bam, a nonviolent man but one desperate for food, shoots a warthog and shares it with the villagers. Daniel, July’s militant friend, eventually steals the gun and disappears.
While the gun is a symbol of false acceptance and the Smales shortwave radio is symbolic of a connection with the outside world and the hope of delivery from their impossible plight, it is the bakkie upon which Gordimer places the most symbolic weight. The bright yellow bakkie is first the means of escape from Johannesburg; in the village, it is a reference point—the only link with the past. It also becomes symbolic to them of the role-reversal and the underlying tensions of that reversal that produce hidden resentment between Bam and July and open conflict between Maureen and July.
Since the Smales cannot openly shop in the few village stores, July, even though he cannot drive and must use Daniel for this purpose, takes the bakkie without asking permission. When he is questioned about the villagers’ curiosity, that could lead to the revelation of the hidden white family, July laughingly replies that he tells them the bakkie is a gift from his white boss. The keys to the symbolic bakkie remain in July’s possession and he sets about learning to drive.
Because of Bam’s insistent prodding, and because in the past the communication was mainly between her and July, Maureen confronts him, and in this conversation long suppressed resentments erupt. Maureen reproaches July for his lack of respect, accusing him of not appreciating the items they gave him in their former life, and suggests that he is insensitive to the fate of his townswoman. July, referring to himself sarcastically as having been their “boy,” reveals his understanding of his place in their relationship and tells Maureen he never wanted their “rubbish.” He tells her he feels after fifteen years of service that he deserves their trust. He deliberately answers the charge about Ellen casually and in a manner that tells Maureen that she is meddling in his affairs. “The present was his; he would arrange the past to suit it.”
As Maureen and July talk, a new feeling comes to Maureen—fear. Not fear of physical harm from July, but fear within herself—fear of the isolation and alienation that comes from misunderstanding:How was she to have known, until she came here, that the special consideration she had shown for his dignity as a man, while he was by definition a servant, would become his humiliation itself, the one thing there was to say between them that had any meaning.
Bam, Maureen, July, July’s mother, and Martha (who has already grown used to talking to July more when he is absent than when he is present), move constantly toward a more pronounced isolation that becomes alienation.
As a helicopter, perhaps bearing rescuers or assassins, hovers over the village and lands in an open field, Maureen, not knowing or caring who the newcomers are, and reverting to the basic premise of personal survival, runs alone toward the alluring sound of the motor.
In July’s People, as in her previous seven novels, Gordimer employs her talent for lush description of a land she knows well, but she uses description thematically, immersing the reader in the bitter realities of South Africa. Gordimer has said that she hopes to “make out of words a total form for whatever content I seize upon”; her deliberately detached, cool images (“the tension between standing apart and being fully involved”) enable her readers to enter the explosive world of her fiction.
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The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 under a constitution excluding blacks from parliament. In 1912, a number of chiefs joined members of the middle class to form the opposition party, the African National Congress (ANC). ANC protests from 1912 until 1940 were within the law. When WWII broke out, South Africa fought with the Allies. After the war, there was a great influx of Africans into the cities. This shift in demographics, coupled with a rise in crime and shanty-towns, created a degree of paranoia amongst the enfranchised (white) citizens. In the elections of 1948, the Afrikaner Nationalists were voted in because they promised to restore order.
The Afrikaner Nationalists began a system of apartheid, a regime based on racial discrimination that was instituted nationwide. In 1956, for example, the regime removed 60,000 mixed-blood "colored" from the voting rolls of Cape Province. In late summer, 100,000 non-whites were forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for whites. Africans were required to live in designated areas and carry "passes" or permission papers. The inability to provide an inquiring official with one's papers meant jail or fines. Generally, the system of apartheid aimed to keep the non-white people living under South African rule a disciplined pool of workers. Dissent or organization into labor unions or political parties was not tolerated. The political groups, lead by the ANC, used boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations in an effort to change the government.
On March 21, 1960, thousands of people all over South Africa responded to an ANC call of civil disobedience. The people marched without their passes and offered themselves for arrest. The government responded at Sharpeville, 40 miles south of Johannesburg, where 20,000 people had gathered. Police panicked and opened fire. Sixty-nine black people dead, 180 injured, and one week later the ANC was banned. This event forced leaders to flee underground where they formed armed groups whose aim was sabotage. One of the leaders jailed soon after was Nelson Mandela.
Tensions increased as the strictures of apartheid tightened: every year saw the passage of laws decreasing the civil liberties of blacks. It also saw the highest incarceration rate in the world and barbaric police brutality. The opposition parties were working underground but were not invisible for long. In the 1970s, the Black Consciousness movement formed but then was destroyed by the government. Its purpose was accomplished; it raised awareness among people and made possible a new generation of black dissidence. A revolt was organized from schools where teachers and students were dissatisfied with low salaries, a crumbling education system, and a recent law that made Afrikaans the equivalent of English.
On June 16, 1976, roughly 15,000 school children turned out to demonstrate against apartheid in Soweto. The police opened fire, killing 25, and wounding dozens more. The protest spread over the country and continued through 1977. One of the organizers was soon arrested. His name was Stephen Biko and his death in jail created an international outcry. After restoring order, the government appointed the Collie Commission of Inquiry to investigate the cause of the unrest in the black residential areas.
The Commission gave its report in February of 1980 and stated that the problem stemmed from the implementation of the language policy and ensuing linguistic misunderstandings. As a result of the report, Soweto was given a new school, teachers were given a raise, and a new Education Act
made school compulsory—boycotts and protests were now illegal. What the government did not realize was that Soweto had galvanized a palpable opposition that had not been raised by Sharpeville or any of the other incidents. It is at this point, when "it seemed that all was quieting down again," that Gordimer published July's People and the ban on Burger's Daughter was lifted.
State of Emergency
The government dealt with Soweto effectively. An independent homeland scheme wherein there would be limited self-governance was masterminded by P. W. Botha and seemed to ease tensions. Meanwhile, some laws were changed and some liberties restored to blacks. White administration of the homelands was ended in 1982. But police actions simultaneously intensified throughout this period. In 1984, a new constitution was written and Botha became president. On the issue of parliaments, a compromise was brokered whereby there would be one lawmaking body but with three racially segregated chambers.
The developments at the parliamentary level translated into frustration at the street level. Youths were impatient for change—they had grown up aware of the Soweto massacre and conscious of the guerilla efforts of the ANC. On September 3, 1984, the day the new Tricameral parliament was to become reality, riots broke out and South Africa entered a constant state of turmoil.
This unrest led to the declaration of a State of Emergency. The army re-enforced the police in October. Then in February 1985, the government tried to remove a squatter camp outside Cape Town called Crossroads. This had been tried before but the task of removing the 87,000 residents had not been achieved During this attempt, 18 people were killed and international news cameras were on the scene The whole world saw the violence and leaders around the world were furious. On March 21, 25 years after Sharpeville, the police killed 40 people gathered for a funeral of other police victims.
The End of White Rule
Since 1985, the ANC and its affiliates had become a revolutionary army with increasing tactical sophistication. They attacked government posts, police, and, by 1989, military installations. South Africa was in a state of civil war and the government was losing. The National Party changed its tactics by making F. W. de Klerk leader of the party. De Klerk was an outsider who was more receptive than his predecessors were. He was elected president in 1989. He lifted the ban on the ANC and released Nelson Mandela from jail. Throughout 1990s, exiles returned and new elections were called for. Mandela was elected president in 1994 and incredible change swept the country.
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The narrative is told from a third person point of view and the tone of the narrative voice is that of dispassionate documentation. The voice reports on the activities and behavior of the characters as they adjust to their marooned state However, the narration does not add information about the world that might explain the situation In this way, the narrator knows only as much as the Smales know or learn from the radio. At the story's focus is Maureen, her thoughts are more often revealed. As a result, the story told is filtered through her and censored by her body of knowledge. Furthermore, the reader loses track of the political background and must consider what the basis of human relations are and what they need to be in a more just society.
Occasionally the focus shifts to Bam and there is some insight into his thought process, but this is not enough to give him any depth. Maureen and July (who is a function of her) are the only substantial characters in the novel. Maureen causes the narrative's linearity to be clouded in a way that reflects her disbelief that any of the revolution was possible or happening.
Realism is a literary technique often used to examine the mores and customs of middle-and lower-class characters. July's People focuses on middle-class liberal whites to examine them as they deal with a complete disruption of their society. The story asks the question, what next—what kind of role do white people have when they are overthrown? That question is the subtext of Maureen's battle with My. In fact, the climax of the story is the moment when he yells at her in his own language and she understands. She hears that her sympathies for him were an insult, that he is trapped as a servant m a society ruled by whites. But that is his morass.
The real criticism of the story is centered on Maureen. She represents the liberal who tried to prevent or ignore the growing revolutionary violence. Now, she discovers, she must do something. The focus on the hypocrisy of the liberal political stance is exposed without having to resort to a specific listing of their faults. It is exposed by a story of a symbolic family marooned among people it never really wanted to encounter (though they might have felt for them from a distance). Gordimer wants the reader to examine his or her beliefs. The novel's dramatic circumstances serve to point out that only a fantastic event, unfortunately, will wake people up.
In musical composition, a leitmotif describes the technique whereby certain themes are repeated to signify emotion, announce a character, or accompany specific scenery. July's People is composed of an incredible series of such events whereby the novel's noise—the insects, the radio, the people, the helicopter—becomes a symphony or operatic display. Moreover, every superficial theme actually reinforces the overarching theme that a woman, Maureen, cannot simply hide from history.
There are subtle objects that instantly retell the story. For example, Manzoni's Promessi Sposi is the only novel Maureen has taken with her. She never reads the famous nineteenth-century novel, but it reminds her of civilization. Like that novel, her marriage is thwarted by the overlord July—but there will be no happy ending because she rejects suburban culture with its fanciful tales of romance. Another example is found in the pink teacups and the way July supplies fruit at the end of the meal. The insistence upon living in the same manner as they once did only further points out the absurdity of that previous life.
Ideas for Group Discussions
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In July's People, Gordimer prophesied the inevitable overthrow of the apartheid system of the Afrikaner Nationalists.
1. The ending of July's People leaves a great deal to the imagination. Imitating Gordimer's style, write your own ending. Was there a helicopter or not?
2. Do some research into the disease risks associated with living in the rural regions (as opposed to the wilderness) of South Africa? Given the fact of war and that July's home is an old agricultural village, how much of Maureen's worry about illness is valid? How much is simply an expression of her discomfort at not being in familiar surroundings?
3. In the United States we had a similar, though milder, system of laws that institutionalized racial discrimination known as Jim Crow Laws. What were those laws and how would they compare with the system of apartheid?
4. What characteristics give rise to the opinion that Gina is Gordimer's representative of a new South Africa? What will that new entity be like? How closely does it resemble the actual South Africa that has developed since the abolition of apartheid?
Compare and Contrast
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South Africa: in 1991 the total population was about 30 million persons of which 5 million were white, 2.5 million were people of color, and the rest were black. The black population is expected to total 66 million by 2010 with little change in the other two racial categories.
USA: the total population now exceeds 267 million persons. Approximately 11% are black. The birth rate among whites is low but among His-panics and native Americans it is very high.
South Africa: European colonialists designated 10 areas as reservations for blacks. These areas became known as homelands and were briefly independent. In 1994, the homelands were re-absorbed during the elections so that South Africa is one administrative unit without a reservation system.
USA: European colonialists signed treaties with Native Americans granting them rights to homelands This too was a reservation system These treaties recognize the Indian Tribes as sovereign Nations but the United States has never allowed Native governments much independence.
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Daniel Defoe's The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is the famous tale of a shipwrecked man who survives for decades on an island. He constructs a settlement with his man Friday and dies very rich. The story came to epitomize the saga of the settler attempting to recreate England everywhere in the world.
Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness is a parable of colonial empire. It is just one of the many colonial myths referenced in Gordimer's work.
Among contemporary works, July's People has often been compared to Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), by J. M. Coetzee, because of similar questions about the fate of those in power. Coetzee's story is a parable about colonialism told by the magistrate of a fort. A garrison has come to help defend the fort against unseen barbarians. Eventually, the garrison retreats and things return to normal, but it is unclear whether anyone will survive the coming winter or when the barbarians will attack.
When the crackdown on dissent came in the 1960s in the wake of the ANC ban, Ruth First was one of the first to be imprisoned. She wrote about her experience in a novel called 117 Days (1965). She was assassinated by a letter bomb in 1982 and was survived by her husband, Joe Slovo, who was living in exile.
Set after World War II, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) by Alan Paton tells of the journey of a man to the big city to find his son. The novel brought international attention to apartheid.
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An audio version of July's People was issued on cassette by Blackstone Audio Books in 1993.
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July's People was made into an audio cassette by Blackstone Audio Books in 1993.
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Sources for Further Study
Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. “The Interregnum of Ownership in July’s People.” The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer. Edited by Bruce King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Sees the novel as revealing the hollowness of a materialistic life. Removed from their privileged society, detached from their material possessions, Bamford and Maureen lose their selfhood.
Christian Science Monitor. LXXIII, June 8, 1981, p. 21.
Clingman, Stephen. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside. Winchester, Mass.: Allen and Unwin, 1986. Places Gordimer’s first eight novels in the context of South African society and politics; sees major themes of July’s People as racial and class revolution and also a revolution in language and sexual roles.
Dojka, Stephanie. “July’s People: She Knew No Word.” Joinings and Disjoinings: The Significance of Marital Status in Literature, edited by JoAnna Stephens Mink and Janet Doubler Ward. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991. Sees the deterioration of the marriage of the Smales as an indication that white institutions based on exploitation must be dismantled; the marriage is successful at July’s expense.
Library Journal. CVI, March 15, 1981, p. 680.
Ms. IX, June, 1981, p. 41.
Nation. CCXXXII, June 6, 1981, p. 705.
Neill, Michael. “Translating the Present: Language, Knowledge, and Identity in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 25, no. 1 (1990): 71-97. Sees the novel as being not so much about the revolutionary future as about the difficulties of the South Africa of the novel’s present. Analyzes how language, knowledge, and identity break down with a change of culture.
The New York Review of Books. XXVIII, August 13, 1981, p. 14.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, June 7, 1981, p. 1.
The New Yorker. LVII, June 22, 1981, p. 114.
Saturday Review. VIII, July, 1981, p. 101.
Smith, Roland, “Masters and Servants: Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People and the Themes of Her Fiction.” In Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer, edited by Roland Smith. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Centers on Maureen’s recognition of the flaws of her liberalism. Sees a main theme of the novel as the inability of whites and blacks to communicate.
Time. CXVII, June 8, 1981, p. 79.
Times Literary Supplement. September 4, 1981, p. 1001.
Bibliography and Further Reading
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Judith Chettle, in a review in National Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 25, December, 1981, p 1561.
Stephen Clingman, "The Subject of Revolution: Burger's Daughter and July's People," in The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside, Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 170-204.
Joan Silber, in a review in New York Review of Books, August, 1981, p. 14.
Rowland Smith, "Masters and Servants Nadine Gordimer's July's People and the Themes of Her Fiction," in Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer, edited by Rowland Smith, G. K. Hall & Co. pp. 140-52.
Anne Tyler, "South Africa After the Revolution," in New York Review of Books, June, 1981, p 26.
Kathrin Wagner, Rereading Nadine Gordimer, Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 41, 5.
For Further Study
Michael Atwell, South Africa. Background to the Crisis, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1986.
With a splendid glossary, maps, and some photos, Atwell gives a general history of South Africa beginning with its exploration by whites from 1652.
Rosemarie Bodenheimer, "The Interregnum of Ownership in July's People" in The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer, edited by Bruce King, St Martin's, 1993, pp. 108-20.
Analyzes Gordimer's portrayal of the meaning and power of ownership, which for the characters defines political consciousness and identity.
Stephen Clingman, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer History from the Inside, University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.
In his thorough study of Gordimer's novels, Clingman addresses the political, economic, linguistic, and sexual revolutions in July's People and connects the work to the historical moment in which it was composed.
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness, Beckwood's, 1899.
Conrad's novella is the parable of colonial empire. It is just one of the many colonial myths referenced in Gordimer's work.
John Cooke, '"Nobody's Children': Families in Gordimer's Later Novels," in The Later Fiction of Nadine Gordimer, edited by Bruce King, St Martin's, 1993, pp. 21-32.
Concentrating on three Gordimer novels, Cooke discusses children's breaks from parental authority and the political significance of these breaks.
Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, edited by Angus Ross, Penguin USA, 1995.
The famous tale of a shipwrecked man who survives for decades on an island. He constructs a settlement with his man Friday and dies very rich. The story came to epitomize the saga of the settler attempting to recreate England everywhere in the world.
Stefanie Dojka, "July's People- She Knew No Word," in Joinings and Disjoinings The Significance of Marital Status in Literature, edited by JoAnna Stephens Mink and Janet Doubler Ward, Popular, 1991, pp. 155-71.
Traces the South African revolution's effects on the Smales' marriage and on Maureen Smales' changing character.
Lars Engle, "The Political Uncanny: The Novels of Nadine Gordimer," in The Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 2, No 2, 1989, pp. 101-27.
Engle contrasts Gordimer's vision for South African art with that of Hendrik F. Verwoerd, former Prime Minister of South Africa, and he employs Freud's concept of the "uncanny" to analyze the political elements of Gordimer's fiction.
Nadine Gordimer, The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places, edited by Stephen Clingman, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
Collection of Gordimer's essays about her life, theory of writing, and political events relevant to her work.
Jennifer Gordon, "Dreams of a Common Language Nadine Gordimer's July's People," in African Literature Today, Vol. 15, 1987, pp. 102-08.
Gordon analyzes Gordimer's treatment of the power and limitations of language. She contends that Gordimer implies mat a "common language" will be necessary to foster understanding between white and black South Africans.
Robert Green, "From The Lying Days to July's People, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer," in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 14, No. 4, spring, 1988, pp 543-63.
Green discusses Gordimer's artistic project, which records the changing consciousness of her time and intentionally challenges both her readers and herself.
Susan M. Greenstein, "Miranda's Story. Nadine Gordimer and the Literature of Empire," in Novel' A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 3, spring, 1985, pp 227-42.
Using the figures of Miranda and Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest, Greenstein examines two Gordimer novels and their breaks from traditional adventure literature about Africa.
Dominic Head, Nadine Gordimer, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Traces major themes and issues throughout Gordimer's body of work and discusses the issues of identity in July's People.
Tom Lodge and Bill Nasson, All, Here, and Now Black Politics in South Africa in the 1980s, Ford Foundation-Foreign Policy Association, 1991.
Explains the complex development of politics in the last decade of apartheid. Some background is given but its focus is on the events leading up to a negotiated end of white rule in South Africa
Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country, Twayne Publishing,
Set after World War II the novel tells of the journey of man to the big city to find his son. The novel brought international attention to apartheid.
Sheila Roberts, "Sites of Paranoia and Taboo: Lessing's The Grass Is Singing and Gordimer's July's People," in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 23, No 3, fall, 1993, pp.
Exploring the gothic devices in Lessing's and Gordimer's novels, Roberts views the dwellings the female protagonists inhabit as extensions of these women and, thus, "configurations of the uncanny "
Rowland Smith, "Masters and Servants Nadine Gordimer's July's People and the Themes of Her Fiction," in Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer, edited by Rowland Smith, Hall, 1990, pp 140-52.
Connects July's People to Gordimer's earlier work, focusing on both the Smales' inability to escape their status as whites in July's village and the failures of communication between Maureen Smales and July.
Barbara Temple-Thurston, "Madam and Boy. A Relationship of Shame in Gordimer's July's People," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 28, No. 1, spring, 1988, pp 51-8.
Examines the breakdown of culturally determined roles in the novel, particularly the gendered relationship of "Madam" and "boy" between Maureen and July.
Andre Viola, "Communication and Liberal Double Bind in July's People by Nadine Gordimer," in Commonwealth Essays and Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, spring, 1987, pp. 52-8.
Referring to Paul Watzlawick's Pragmatics of Human Communication, Viola discusses the communication strategies that Gordimer depicts in the novel.
Nicholas Visser, "Beyond the Interregnum A Note on the Ending of July's People," in Rendering Things Visible: Essays on South African Literary Culture, edited by Martin Trump, Ohio University Press, 1990, pp. 61-7.
Visser explores connections between the novel's ending and W. B. Yeats's "Leda and the Swan "
Kathrin Wagner, Rereading Nadine Gordimer, Indiana University Press, 1994.
Examines Gordimer's political views, stereotypes, depictions of women and black South Africans, and use of landscape iconography in her novels.