Nadine Gordimer Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Nadine Gordimer is known for several novels, including A World of Strangers, The Conservationist (1974), Burger’s Daughter (1979), and The House Gun (1998), as well as the acclaimed My Son’s Story (1990). She has published heavily in nonficion, especially contributing to South African scholarship with such books as Lifetimes Under Apartheid (1986; with David Goldblatt) and Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century (1999). Gordimer has also published essays and edited a study of the literature of her homeland.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

As a courageous chronicler of life in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer is known throughout the world. She received the W. H. Smith and Son Prize in 1971 for Friday’s Footprint, and Other Stories. Two years later she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for A Guest of Honour (1970). The next year, The Conservationist shared with Stanley Middleton’s Holiday (1974) the prestigious Booker Prize. Gordimer was also a recipient of France’s Grand Aigle d’Or, and in 1991 she won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Gordimer rejected candidacy for the Orange Prize in 1998 because it was restricted to female writers. She is the vice president of PEN International and an executive member of the Congress of South African Writers. Gordimer has been honored with the Modern Literature Association Award and the Bennett Award in the United States and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. Her short fiction has been published in such magazines as The New Yorker.

One American reviewer summed up Gordimer’s importance in literature, writing: “Gordimer is in the great mainstream of the short story—Maupassant, Chekhov, Turgenev, James, Hemingway, Porter.” Most of Gordimer’s fiction has been published in paperback form, enabling a greater number of readers and critics to recognize and enjoy her work.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Nadine Gordimer (GOHR-dih-muhr) is a prolific writer and one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers of short stories. Her first collection of stories, Face to Face (1949), was published in Johannesburg by Silver Leaf Books. Her first story published in The New Yorker, where most of her stories have initially appeared, was “A Watcher of the Dead” (June 9, 1951). Gordimer’s first collection of stories to be published in the United States was The Soft Voice of the Serpent, and Other Stories (1952). This collection was followed by many others, including Six Feet of the Country (1956), Friday’s Footprint, and Other Stories (1960), Not for Publication, and Other Stories (1965), A Soldier’s Embrace (1980), Crimes of Conscience (1991), Loot, and Other Stories (2003), and Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black, and Other Stories (2007). Gordimer has also written teleplays for three of her stories that were adapted for television (“Country Lovers,” “A Chip of Glass Ruby,” and “Praise”). She has published numerous literary reviews and other essays and short pieces, usually dealing with literature or with the culture or politics of South Africa. Her collections of essays include The Black Interpreters: Notes on African Writing (1973), The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics, and Places (1988; edited by Stephen Clingman), Writing and Being (1995), and Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century (1999). With Lionel Abrahams she edited South African Writing Today (1967). Gordimer also contributed to and edited Telling Tales (2004), a collection of twenty-one short stories by world-renowned authors; profits from the sale of this volume have been donated to help agencies working to control the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and to treat those with HIV and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Nadine Gordimer won the W. H. Smith Literary Award in 1961 for Friday’s Footprint, and Other Stories. In 1972, she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for her novel A Guest of Honour. The Conservationist was cowinner of the Booker Prize in 1974. Gordimer also has received the French international literary prize the Grand Aigle d’Or (1975), the Italian Malaparte Prize (1985), and the Nelly Sachs Prize from Germany (1986). She was awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1986) and the highest French art and literature decoration, the Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1991). For her 2001 novel The Pickup, Gordimer was awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best Book from Africa. She has been awarded honorary degrees from such American universities as Harvard and Yale (both in 1986) and the New School for Social Research (1987). In the fall of 1994, Gordimer delivered the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures series at Harvard. In 1991, she was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Many of Nadine Gordimer’s young adult characters experience an epiphany, a sudden understanding of a core truth. Choose a few examples, and discuss whether the epiphanies are related to race or personal relationships or to something else.

Gordimer often includes historical references in her fiction. Choose a few examples, such as references to historic people or to events or to laws, and discuss how effective their inclusion is in the work.

Compare or contrast the husband-wife relationships in several of Gordimer’s stories or novels.

Gordimer’s method of narration sometimes proves difficult. Discuss why the method of narration in The House Gun might be appropriate for Gordimer’s aims.

Do you envision Julie Summers and Ibrahim ibn Musa in The Pickup as living separately for the rest of their lives? Why or why not?

Discuss how Gordimer relies on irony to suggest her themes. Begin by considering some of her titles.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bazin, Nancy Topping, and Marilyn Dallman Seymour, eds. Conversations with Nadine Gordimer. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. The scope of this volume renders it invaluable. It reveals some of Gordimer’s insights and attitudes toward her works and their origins, in conversations spanning thirty years. Supplemented by an index and a bibliography.

Clingman, Stephen. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside. 2d ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. Interprets Gordimer’s work within the context of history in general and the history of South Africa and African literature in particular. The second edition includes a new prologue, which notes the dismantling of apartheid and Gordimer’s Nobel Prize; also adds a discussion of A Sport of Nature and My Son’s Story. Indexed.

Cooke, John. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: Private Lives, Public Landscapes. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. Cooke discusses Gordimer’s development as a writer of fiction. Cooke focuses on the individual, tracing the shift in Gordimer’s identity from colonial writer, to South African writer, and, even further, to African writer. Cooke provides valuable interpretation of, and critical insight into, Gordimer’s work. Complemented by useful bibliographies and an index.

Driver, Dorothy, Ann Dry, Craig MacKenzie, and John Read, comps. Nadine Gordimer: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources, 1937-1992. London: Hans Zell, 1994. More than three thousand entries listed chronologically. Each critical book or article entry indicates which Gordimer works are covered. Includes a chronology of Gordimer’s career to 1993. Several...

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