The Train from Rhodesia

by Nadine Gordimer

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Student Question

What does the passengers' interaction reveal about the theme in "The Train from Rhodesia"?

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The Train from Rhodesia” is a short story written by Nadine Gardimer. The story describes the events inside a train carriage that pulls into a station in Africa. The reader learns that the poor local people are trying to sell their goods to the passengers on the train.

A key theme of this short story is the discrepancy between wealth and poverty. The passengers of the train are portrayed as people with money, as they are buying the goods that the native people are trying to sell to them. The native people, on the other hand, are presented as poor, as they are the ones trying to sell their goods in the hope to make some money. The poverty of the locals is further underlined by the fact that some children are simply begging for money: “'Give me penny,' said the little ones with nothing to sell.” The various interactions going on in the train underline this theme further. For example, the fact that the passengers “turned into compartments to fetch money” clearly shows the reader that the passengers are not poor at all, as they have money to spare. They clearly take an interest in some of the goods available, as the narrator tells us that some of them “call[ed] someone to look,” further indicating the fact that they have the financial means to buy some of the sellers’ wares.

Sadly, the rich passengers don’t value the goods they are buying at all. A girl is described as “throwing [the hard chocolates] to the dogs,” which clearly shows her disdain. Through this event, the reader sees how the rich people on the train have no understanding at all of the struggles of the poor people outside. The rich girl totally ignores the fact that there are poor, begging children outside on the platform, desperate to get some money in order to buy food. She’d rather give the chocolates to the dogs than to the poor locals outside.

To make matters worse, the rich people seem to perceive the situation of the poor natives as entertaining. To the passengers, haggling is merely an entertaining game. This can be seen when the young man states that “[he] was arguing with [the seller] for fun.” The poor natives need the money in order to survive, but to the rich passengers on the train money is just a way to entertain themselves.

However, some of the passengers are aware of this and feel uneasy about it. This is why the young woman is not happy with the young man, when he brings her the lion. She asks him “why [he] didn’t take it decently when [the seller] offered it,” clearly showing disgust at the way the young man had taken advantage of the situation of the poor seller.

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