Form and Content
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...
(The entire section is 501 words.)