Style and Technique

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Most of Gordimer’s stories and novels evoke a sense of compassion for the characters, who are enmeshed in circumstances of their own creation. She manages to develop in her readers a genuine sympathy—even an empathy—for them; understanding, forgiveness, identification are her goals rather than condemnation, advocacy, and partisanship. Further, she manages to show the ineffable bond between individuals of different races, social status, and value systems that can be developed and sustained by respect for individuals as such: Almost all of her characters come from divergent backgrounds, yet they somehow manage to find fulfillment in each other. “Town and Country Lovers” shows the gradual growth and maturation of love between couples and suggests that when that love is fulfilled in sexual relations, it is honest and honorable—though it can be destroyed through the interposition of an artificial, arbitrary, and extrinsic morality. Ultimately, this becomes a question of whether persons should be allowed to decide their own course in life or be obliged to accept a dictated one.

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At times, the author distances herself somewhat too much from her characters and their situations: This distance is achieved largely through what seems at times reportage, though because both parts of the story involve police and courtroom investigations, the journalistic quality of the written style may be defended as especially appropriate. In part 1, one can imagine that the Sunday newspaper reporter was responsible for the description of the girl when the police discover her in the closet:She had been naked, it was true, when they knocked. But now she was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt with an appliqued butterfly motif on one breast, and a pair of jeans. Her feet were still bare; she had managed, by feel, in the dark, to get into some of the clothing she had snatched from the bed, but she had no shoes.

However, this factually detailed account is at times found in close juxtaposition with rather coy, Victorian language, as in the description of Leinsdorf making love to his sleeping mate: “He made his way into her body without speaking; she made him welcome without a word.” All too often, as here, there is what seems an emotional understatement in which greater feeling and perhaps even passion could be justified. Apparently silent, acquiescent sex is what the lover perceives will make her “like a wife.” However, she is notably less passionate than Thebedi, as well as older and more sophisticated. One of the author’s achievements is her ability to convey through her style the carefully developed and companionable relationship of part 1 and then the more natural, unrestrained sensuality of part 2.

Historical Context

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European Immigration to South Africa
In 1652, the Dutch East India Company built a fort in South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope. Here company ships acquired provisions on their way to Asia. Cape Town grew from this original settlement, expanding with the growing needs of the company. Company employees were given land on which to grow crops and raise livestock for the company’s needs. Toward the end of the century, the company began recruiting produce and livestock farmers from Holland, Germany, and France (who collectively became known as Afrikaners). Soon, the natives had lost much of their land, and many migrated north.

In 1814, Great Britain purchased the colony from the Dutch and sent thousands of British colonists to expand its land holdings. English law was imposed, angering many of the Afrikaners. By the 1840s, close to fifteen thousand Afrikaners had left the colony, either returning to Europe or settling elsewhere in South Africa.

Apartheid, which means separateness, was the official policy of segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1990. Before apartheid, racial segregation was part of South Africa’s cultural reality, making it fairly easy for the National Party to implement apartheid after winning the 1948 elections. Apartheid was so strong that today, over ten years after its collapse, its social, political, and economic effects are still felt.

Under apartheid, people were placed in one of three categories: white, Bantu (black Africans), or colored (people of mixed race). Later a fourth category was added to include Asian immigrants (mostly Indians and Pakistanis). Black and colored Africans were severely oppressed. Laws determined where they could live and work, what type of education they received, and with whom they could have personal relationships. The Immorality Act of 1927 forbade sexual relationships between whites and blacks. Comprising 75 percent of the population, black and colored Africans were forced to live in designated areas making up only 13 percent of the land, and the land granted to them was poor. In addition, their access to white areas was restricted; they were subject to searches and had to carry identification cards to present on demand to whites. In 1959, an act was passed allowing blacks to participate in the government of their designated areas. The reality of this act was that black and colored Africans were no longer represented in the national government, which held all the power. Furthermore, the government discontinued social welfare programs for blacks and colored Africans who lived in poverty, often without basic amenities such as clean water.

Outraged by the injustices of the South African government, many nations, including the United States, imposed harsh trade sanctions (restrictions) on South Africa in the 1980s to apply pressure on the government to change. Slowly, apartheid began to weaken. When F. W. de Klerk was elected to the presidency in 1990, he declared the official end of apartheid.

Contemporary South African Writers
After World War II, a group of novelists based in South Africa acquired a high profile. For a decade or so following the war, these writers produced fiction that described the harsh conditions of apartheid in South Africa. Their books reached global audiences and helped bring attention to the injustice. Some, such as Alan Paton, eventually turned their focus to nonfiction and politically oriented work, while others, like Peter Abrahams and Dan Jacobson, left South Africa. By the 1960s, Gordimer was one of the last postwar novelists still writing fiction from South Africa. Some commentators remark that her commitment to writing fiction from her homeland is not surprising, given that she is truly a product of South Africa. She attended school there, has traveled the continent, and continues to live there.

Literary Style

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In ‘‘Town and Country Lovers,’’ Gordimer provides details about the South African setting that give the reader an idea of what this setting, marked by separatism and segregation, feels like to the characters. Gordimer shows the reader a glimpse of what it is like to be a black or colored South African by providing brief descriptions of lifestyle and living conditions. The cashier, for example, is said to live ‘‘a bus- and train-ride away to the west of the city, but this side of the black townships, in a township for people of her tint.’’

The restrictive setting is described from the white characters’ points of view, as when Dr. von Leinsdorf invites the cashier into the kitchen for a cup of coffee because he ‘‘couldn’t very well take her into his study-cum-living-room and offer her a drink.’’ When Paulus meets Thebedi privately, he makes sure that they choose places and times when they will not be seen. Understanding the cultural setting makes the characters’ decisions to have romantic relationships more compelling to the reader.

Point of View
The omniscient narrator of ‘‘Town and Country Lovers’’ enables the reader to see events in the story from every major character’s perspective. In Part One, the narrator describes Dr. von Leinsdorf’s perceptions of the cashier the first time he sees her outside the grocery store. Later, the narrator relates Dr. von Leinsdorf’s thoughts about whether or not to tip her: ‘‘It was difficult to know how to treat these people, in this country; to know what they expected.’’ When the cashier visits his building to deliver the razor blades, she notices the ferns and the airtight hallways. That she is impressed by relatively minor luxuries tells the reader something about her own living conditions.

In Part Two, the narrator continues to reveal the characters’ thoughts. When Paulus returns from boarding school, he meets Thebedi by the riverside. She walks into the water with her dress up, and the narrator comments that the girls he swam with ‘‘on neighboring farms wore bikinis but the sight of their dazzling bellies and thighs in the sunlight had never made him feel what he felt now.’’ After he makes love to Thebedi for the first time, he finds it ‘‘so lovely, so lovely, he was surprised.’’ The reader is also given the advantage of understanding Thebedi’s intuitive nature. When she sees Paulus’s parents leave for the night, she knows to meet Paulus at the house instead of by the riverside, as they normally do. The way the narrator reveals each character’s thoughts creates a kind of intimacy that makes the reader feel almost like a participant in the story.

Compare and Contrast

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1980: In South Africa, black and colored citizens make up 75 percent of the total population. Today: In South Africa, black and colored citizens still make up 75 percent of the population.

1980: Apartheid is the official government policy of racial segregation in South Africa. This policy calls for harsh divisions between the races, adversely affecting the economic, political, and social lives of black and colored South Africans.

Today: While some black and colored South Africans enjoy a standard of living previously enjoyed only by whites, the majority continue to live in the townships established during apartheid. These townships consist of run-down, single- story dwellings—often shacks—built very close together. Other non-whites live in even worse conditions to be closer to the cities in which they work.

1980: Race is the central issue in South African politics. Apartheid creates sharp lines of political and social division, and most people are forced to take either a pro-apartheid stance or an antiapartheid stance.

Today: South Africans are focused on a variety of social issues, such as unemployment, housing, crime, and poverty. To a degree, these problems are related to apartheid, but the emphasis is less on race and more on root causes. The government has formed the Reconstruction and Development Programme to address these and other problems.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Bazin, Nancy, ‘‘An Interview with Nadine Gordimer,’’ in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter 1995, pp. 571–89.

Eckstein, Barbara J., ‘‘Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1991,’’ in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 1, Winter 1992, pp. 7–10.

Huggan, Graham, ‘‘Echoes from Elsewhere: Gordimer’s Short Fiction as Social Critique,’’ in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 61–74.

Rubel, David, ‘‘Nadine Gordimer,’’ in The Reading List of Contemporary Fiction: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works of 110 Authors, Agincourt Press, 1998, pp. 141–47.

Smith, Rowland, ‘‘Nadine Gordimer,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 225: South African Writers, The Gale Group, 2000, pp. 184–204.

Topping Bazin, Nancy, and Marilyn Dallman Seymour, eds., Conversations with Nadine Gordimer, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

Further Reading
Ettin, Andrew Vogel, Betrayals of the Body Politic: The Literary Commitments of Nadine Gordimer, University Press of Virginia, 1993. Through analysis and interviews with Gordimer, Ettin provides an overview of the themes in her novels and short stories. He considers such topics as betrayal, family, homeland, and ethnicity.

Gordimer, Nadine, Writing and Being, Harvard University Press, 1995. This book contains a series of lectures given by Gordimer at Harvard University. In addition to her own and other authors’ experiences in South Africa, she examines the careers of the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, the Israeli author Amos Oz, and the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz.

Moran, Rachel F., Interracial Intimacy : The Regulation of Race & Romance, University of Chicago Press, 2001. Moran explores the social and political history of interracial romance in the United States. The author provides an overview of racially motivated legislation and discusses the long-term implications of the resulting laws and social expectations.

Ross, Robert, A Concise History of South Africa, Cambridge Concise Histories series, Cambridge University Press, 1999. Ross provides an overview of the last fifteen hundred years of South Africa’s history. He discusses the upheaval of the twentieth century, including the eventual post-apartheid government. Ross also describes the cultural heritage of South Africa’s past and present.

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