Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Set in contemporary South Africa, My Son’s Story is primarily a story about the public and private life of Sonny, originally a schoolteacher with a lovely family. Largely a self-taught black man with middle-class values and aspirations, Sonny, despite his modest and even complacent yearnings (“to improve” himself through literacy in order to gain respect), loses his teaching position when he takes part in his students’ rally. The circumstances, together with his talents in literacy, literature, public speaking, and organizational skills, turn him into a professional social activist. He is recruited by a liberation organization and is paid to move his family into a white neighborhood as part of the struggle against apartheid.

Sonny’s destiny as a professional activist, which has fallen into the hands of the secret police and the judicial system as well as those of his own organization, is compounded by his passionate extramarital relationship with Hannah Plowman, a white woman from a human rights organization who visits him regularly when he is in jail. They are mutually attracted because of the common cause they share; for this reason, Hannah is both a lover and a comrade to Sonny, whereas Aila, whom he married young, is neither. His clandestine affair is discovered by Will, but Sonny manages to manipulate his son, to his chagrin and resentment, into keeping it a secret and therefore becoming an accomplice in the betrayal of Aila....

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Asked whether she sees herself as a female writer or as a writer who happens to be female during an interview published in The Ontario Review, Gordimer replies that she is “not at all conscious of being a female writer” and that there is a kind of writing “which allows the writer to . . . get into the skin of all sexes, all ages.” My Son’s Story, a novel exemplifying this view of writing, ventures across racial and gender bound-aries by focusing on black and male characters despite its author’s being both white and female, but in doing so it also addresses issues relevant to women’s literature.

With the exception of Hannah, who is white, My Son’s Story focuses on black characters. Such a focus reminds readers of the interracial implications of Gordimer’s work—in particular, two more recent novels, July’s People (1981) and A Sport of Nature (1987), in which blacks play a dominant role as characters in the fictional and visionary future of a post-apartheid South Africa. In these novels, Gordimer’s attempt to incorporate and highlight the point of view of blacks and coloreds reflects her commitment, as a white liberal writer and a member of the African National Congress, to the political cause of South Africa at large. Because My Son’s Story refers to the recent past and is preoccupied with the problems and conflicts in which a black activist’s family is entrenched, however, this novel is unlike the other two in that by design it could provoke a different kind of audience or elicit a different kind of response from the author’s regular audience by raising important but unsettling...

(The entire section is 684 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Coles, Robert. “A Different Set of Rules.” The New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1991, 1, 20-21. A review of My Son’s Story emphasizing the radical questions that the novel raises about the conflict between the personal and the political, and in particular about the moral weaknesses of public figures.

Gordimer, Nadine. The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics, and Places. Edited by Stephen Clingman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. A collection of essays, written by Gordimer over a period of thirty years, examining her life and art, her convictions, her ideas, and her experiences. Their theme is how African and South African history and reality are the inescapable subject of writers such as her.

Gordimer, Nadine. Interview by Paul Gray and Bruce W. Nelan. Time 138, no. 15 (October 14, 1991): 91-92. An interview conducted after Gordimer won the Nobel Prize. Contains important statements about My Son’s Story.

Gordimer, Nadine. Interview by Peter Marchant, Judith Kitchen, and Stan Sanvel Rubin. The Ontario Review, no. 26 (Spring-Summer, 1987): 5-14. Gordimer answers a wide variety of questions raised by the three interviewers.

Packer, George. “Manifest Destiny.” The Nation 251, no. 21 (December 17, 1990): 777-780. A review of My Son’s Story focusing on how individuals must contend with choices and compromises forced upon them by a brutal regime.

Papineau, David. “Of Loyalty and Betrayal.” The Times Literary Supplement, no. 4565 (September 28-October 4, 1990): 1037. A review of My Son’s Story discussing the subjective tendency of Gordimer’s narrative technique, linking it to the author’s insistence on the imaginative rather than the political in her writing.

Parrinder, Patrick. “What His Father Gets Up To.” London Review of Books 12, no. 17 (September 13, 1990): 17-18. A review of My Son’s Story focusing on the question of the private realm in Gordimer’s novels.