Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582

The method of the story is typical of many of Gordimer’s short stories; it is lean and spare, like the stories of her early modernist precursors, Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield. The story communicates by implication rather than by direct statement. It begins with the embrace that gives it its title and then develops that minor but symbolically dramatic encounter into a metaphor that obsesses the lawyer’s wife, but that she herself does not really understand. Throughout the story, the image of her face between the white face and the black face of the two soldiers continually recurs to her, standing for the inescapable dilemma of the white person in Africa.

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The point of view of the story is that of an unidentified omniscient narrator, but it sticks closely to the perspective of the lawyer’s wife. One curious element of the story is that although the lawyer seems the central liberal white caught in the revolution of black freedom fighting, it is actually his wife who serves as the reflector of the growing discomfort that the couple feel in their home.

The structure of “A Soldier’s Embrace” moves back and forth between the personal experiences of the wife, beginning with the embrace and ending with her attitude toward her servant, and the more general problems of the lawyer trying to hold on to his place. These shifts are treated in an abrupt, elliptical fashion by Gordimer; the two faces of the story itself—one personal and one political—are separated by blank spaces in the text. Finally, the technique of the story is gradually to develop the embrace—the white soldier and the black soldier, with the white liberal woman caught in between—into a metaphor of the subtle ambiguity of the Janus-faced reality of black-white relations in modern Africa. It is an ambiguity that is never resolved, for at the end of the story the haughty Chipande comes and begs them to stay with tears in his eyes, like a truant child asking his parents to forgive him and not to leave. Thus, from Gordimer’s point of view, moving from childlike dependence to equal friendship is a difficult transition to make. The fact that the wife does not know what to say to her old servant Muchanga means she knew what to say before only because of his role as a servant. Now that is he not, that relationship is left behind, and she truly does have nothing to say. Only with the overthrow of white supremacy does even the white liberal realize how complex his or her relationship with blacks in their own country has been.

Nadine Gordimer had always been a staunch champion of the short-story form, claiming that it is a genre better equipped to capture the nature of human reality than the novel. Basically, Gordimer believes that the coherence of tone necessary to hold a novel together is false to what can really be grasped of human reality, whereas short-story writers practice the art of the present moment, the epiphanic realization that comes sometimes abruptly and sometimes gradually and is good only for that moment. “A Soldier’s Embrace” is a good example of Gordimer’s view of what the short story does best—reflect an ambiguous state of things that cannot be captured either by the prolonged coherence of tone of the novel or by the conceptual straightforward statement of the essay, but which can be realized indirectly by subtle suggestion.

A Soldier's Embrace

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2278

Nadine Gordimer, born in 1923 near Johannesburg, South Africa’s “golden city,” has for thirty years been identified as a South African writer. Recognition in the United States of Gordimer’s work began in 1952, when her first collection of short stories, The Soft Voice of the Serpent , was published in New...

(The entire section contains 2860 words.)

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