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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706

As a writer, Gordimer frequently examines the permanent ways in which the intrusion of politics affects the private lives of individuals in spite of themselves. My Son’s Story is a novel observing this pattern. Sonny and his family, without consciously choosing to be so, have all become involved in the struggle for freedom and must face the consequences, be they liberating or debilitating, in their own ways.

It should also be pointed out, however, that Gordimer’s major concern as a writer is the aesthetic rather than the political dimension of her work, as is made explicit in an interview with Paul Gray and Bruce W. Nelan in Time in 1991. In the interview, Gordimer explains that although she is a card-carrying member of the African National Congress, and although she does allude to jealousies among its leaders in My Son’s Story, her subject is not apartheid but rather “living” in South Africa and “the people who live there”; furthermore, she continues, she does not think that an imaginative writer such as herself should “put whatever talent he or she has at the service of a revolution, no matter how much you believe in it yourself.”

The foregoing statements shed important light on the imaginative intentions of My Son’s Story, although it is also interesting to note that the aesthetic emphasis has suppressed many details, such as those about the internal struggle within Sonny’s organization and his fall from political grace—details that may have tremendous dramatic potentials. Indeed, with notable exceptions such as the march into a black township, where Sonny is to give a speech at the funeral of several massacred black children, the physical action in the novel is generally described in elliptical and abbreviated terms because Gordimer’s primary interest is not the external and objective aspects of the novel’s plot, but rather the subjectivities of the characters, which accordingly are explored and developed with meticulous attention.

Gordimer’s aesthetic preferences have an impact on the meaning of My Son’s Story. In the novel, Gordimer has woven together two obviously related narratives: one about Sonny the activist, and the other about Sonny the person (as father, husband, and adulterer). The two narratives are basically told from the perspectives of two narrators: an omniscient third-person narrator whose Proustian perspective moves from one consciousness to another, and the son as a first-person narrator, whose point of view is more limited in scope but who is more involved emotionally. The two narrators complement each other in taking turns to flesh out the action, but they also contend with each other in the sense that the understanding and sympathy accorded to Sonny in the narrative about him as an activist is again and again challenged by Will’s sarcastic, insightful, biased voice. From the son’s perspective, the shortcomings of Sonny as a father and husband cannot be counterbalanced by his virtues as a public figure. Nevertheless, the son’s narrative cannot cancel out the omniscient narrator’s narrative about Sonny’s political career, however flawed that career may be. The tension between the two narratives suggests a precarious relationship between the political and the personal, with the two coexisting side by side for the reader’s scrutiny. As several reviewers have noted, such a conflict is one of the central themes of the novel.

In the end, however, it appears that Will’s narrative, which turns out to be excerpts from his unpublishable memoir, is incorporated into the larger framework of the omniscient observer’s consciousness, and such a broad perspective can only be the author’s own. The novel, designed in this sense as a metafictional novel (that...

(This entire section contains 706 words.)

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is, a novel containing a fictional narrative by a fictional author), is hence ultimately Gordimer’s own narrative that explores, in the context of South African realities, the intricate but often schizophrenic network of relationships between (and among) father (mother) and son (daughter), husband and wife, marriage and adultery, black and white, male and female, thought and action, and above all the relationship between the political and the personal. Gordimer’s apparently dichotomous distinction between the imaginative and the political, in a sense, is also a symptom of this schizophrenic condition.


My Son’s Story