Six Feet of the Country

by Nadine Gordimer

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What type of conflict drives the story in "Six Feet of the Country"?

Quick answer:

In "Six Feet of the Country," the main conflict that drives the story is the conflict between the narrator and his wife.

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At the beginning of the story, we are told that the narrator and his wife have bought a farm in the country, partly as an attempt to save their marriage. They have Black servants working for them on the farm, and in the middle of one night, a brother of one of those servants dies. The narrator and his wife then become involved in helping the dead man's family to arrange the funeral.

The narrator's response to the death is very different to his wife's response. The narrator seems more concerned with how much inconvenience the death causes him, whereas the wife is affected on a more human level. She is sympathetic for the family of the dead man, whereas her husband has pity only for himself. The wife is upset that the family didn't feel that they could tell her or her husband earlier, when the dead man first became ill.

The husband meanwhile feels put out, because he will "have to notify the health authorities." In response to her husband's unfeeling response to the death, the wife seems to give up entirely on her husband. She simply stands and stares at him. The husband notes that she "simply ceased to see me at all." This death on their farm thus exacerbates the preexisting conflict between them.

At the end of the story, the narrator complains that he has been "driving around the back end of town chasing after this affair." The wife and Petrus, a servant and the dead man's brother, look at the narrator critically. At this moment, the narrator feels as if his wife and the Black servant are "exactly alike." The implication is that his wife has become as different to him, and as separate from him, as are his Black servants. In this way, the main conflict in the story resolves itself, but in a way which is, for the narrator, saddening and unexpected.

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