(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The very fact that the woman and her lawyer husband are not given names in this story is significant, for although they are the central characters, they are anonymous colonials whose lives must change, even though they are liberals sympathetic to the local freedom fighters, now that native Africans have taken over this unnamed African country. This story, like many others by Nadine Gordimer, a South African writer, is about the changing world of African society, a world always at tension between the often silent world of the blacks and the increasingly dislodged world of the white colonials. Dislodgement is indeed what “A Soldier’s Embrace” is about.

The story begins with the event of the embrace itself, an experience of the lawyer’s wife confronting two celebrants of the cease-fire, one white, one black. In an abruptly frozen moment, she kisses them both on the cheek, and as the story progresses and the revolutionaries take more and more control of the city, she remembers that embrace in an obsessively symbolic way—the convergence of the two soldiers with her own confused self symbolizing the dilemma in which she and her well-meaning, liberal husband are caught. She kisses one on the left cheek and one on the right cheek as if they were two sides of one face, and this Janus image of the two faces of African society is the central one that dominates the story.

The two-faced nature of the story centers on the gradually mounting sense...

(The entire section is 558 words.)