Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287

Through the juxtaposition of two stories of love, the author has managed to suggest that the laws against interracial association (apartheid) are a cruel interference in what are at times genuine cases of affection, if not love. Leinsdorf comments that he does accept social distinctions between people but does not believe that they should be legally imposed; Thebedi (also in an interview in a Sunday paper) says that her affair with Paulus had been “a thing of our childhood”—a natural outcome of human relationships unaffected by legalisms. Both relationships are terminated through the interference of neighbors rather than through the direct efforts of the authorities: In Part 1, it is suggested that a neighbor or the caretaker at the apartment house was the informer; in Part 2, the other laborers or their women are suspected of informing. However, the situations are alike: There is always someone prepared to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and to cooperate with officialdom to the discredit of a member of the group.

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In both stories one sees parallel elements and can conclude that a general pattern applies in South Africa, regardless of whether love is found in city or country, in youth or middle age, with black or mulatto, by immigrant European or native Afrikaner, with farm girl or city cashier. In both parts one sees that the treatment of whites by courts is more favorable than that of nonwhites. Nadine Gordimer is not an advocate of miscegenation or of interracial romance. Rather, she suggests that interpersonal relationships should remain exactly that and should not become the concern of government policy. Romance or sex between members of different racial groups should be guided by concern for the involved parties rather than by legislative edict.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594

Interracial Love
As the title indicates, this is a story about lovers. In this case, they are interracial couples forbidden to be together by the laws and mores of South Africa during apartheid. While interracial couples face problems all over the world, the particular circumstances of apartheid create serious problems for Dr. von Leinsdorf and the cashier, and for Paulus and Thebedi as well.

Although the characters are aware of the dangers of being together, they choose to get involved anyway. In both cases, the men are members of the white ruling class, and the women are poor and powerless non-white Africans. Both men, however, have tender feelings for the women. Similarly, the women have genuine feelings for the men although they seem to better comprehend the gravity of what they are doing—perhaps because they might bear heavier consequences.

To a degree, the men choose involvement with these women for convenience. Dr. von Leinsdorf is a solitary man who, during the story, only welcomes one woman into his life and his apartment, so it is perhaps no surprise that he begins a sexual relationship with her. Similarly, Paulus has known Thebedi since childhood. She is comfortable and familiar to him, and he can easily arrange to meet with her when he visits home. In addition to their affection for the men, the women likely feel flattered and, perhaps, even a sense of duty. In a hierarchical society such as theirs, they know that they are not equals in their relationships with white men. These factors reflect the unique elements of interracial love in the story’s setting.

In a society that strictly forbids interracial sexual relationships, the two couples in ‘‘Town and Country Lovers’’ make conscious decisions to break the rules. The first part of the story is set in town and the second part is set in the country, demonstrating that the consequences of breaking these rules cannot be avoided, regardless of where the characters live.

Clearly, the consequences are more severe for the women than they are for the men. Dr. von Leinsdorf is able to afford an attorney to handle his (and the cashier’s) legal troubles, and he is not questioned by reporters. Having no family and being a foreigner, he does not suffer the social consequences that the cashier does. Paulus takes an extreme measure to get rid of the evidence of his transgression, but he is set free after killing his mixed-race baby. Thebedi, on the other hand, suffers the pain a mother feels upon losing a child.

In ‘‘Town and Country Lovers,’’ Gordimer condemns both the government and society in apartheid South Africa. In the first part of the story, she condemns the government more harshly because the legal consequences suffered by Dr. von Leinsdorf and the cashier are more serious than the social consequences. They both go to jail and endure evidence collection—the cashier is subjected to a physical examination, and Dr. von Leinsdorf’s apartment is ransacked for evidence. While the cashier must face social consequences, they are not insurmountable. She is, after all, of mixed race herself.

In the second part of the story, Gordimer seems to condemn society more harshly than the governT ment because the social consequences are more severe. Because he fears his community will learn of his illegitimate child with Thebedi, Paulus poisons his own baby. Thebedi’s community is aware of the situation surrounding the child but accepts it. It is not Thebedi’s community that applies such pressure to its members, it is Paulus’s.

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