The Ultimate Safari

by Nadine Gordimer

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 548

The Bandits
So called by the government, the bandits raided the narrator’s village repeatedly, forced her and her family into hiding, and ultimately forced them into the long trek that takes up most of the story. The identity of the bandits is never revealed specifically, although they are presumed to be one of the Mozambique rebel factions supported by the South African government, trying to overtake the government by wreaking havoc in the rural areas.

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The Daughter
A young girl of nine or ten when the story opens, the daughter, who is also the story’s narrator, reveals very little about herself, but it is through her eyes that the story of her and her family’s arduous trek away from their village to the refugee camp is told. She understands very little about the war, or the reasons behind it, except to comment about the fear the bandits have instilled into her people and to describe the effects their raids have had on her life. An astute observer, she conveys much of the tone of the story through her descriptions of the trek: her grandfather rocking to and fro making little noises; flies buzzing on her grandmother’s face; her older brother becoming silent like their grandfather. Although we ultimately learn very little about the narrator herself, it is through her descriptions that the story unfolds.

The Father
Although he never appears in the story, the father’s absence, and presumed death in the war, is significant as it helps to set the tone of the story, and without him, the narrator’s family must survive on their own.

The Grandfather
Once the owner of three sheep, a cow, and a vegetable garden—all of which have been taken away by the bandits by the time the story takes place—the grandfather does little more than rock side to side and make little noises in this story. He is clearly suffering from some form of dementia or the effects of a mental breakdown, and in the course of the trek through Kruger Park, he wanders off through the high grasses, becomes lost, and must be left behind by the family.

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The Grandmother
As the matriarch of her extended family that includes her husband and her grandchildren—the narrator, and the narrator’s younger and older brothers—the grandmother is the strongest adult character in the story. It is through her vision and leadership that the family is able to escape the danger wrought by the rebels and travel through Kruger Park to a refugee camp across the border. Once her family settles into the refugee camp, she finds work hauling bricks, and she oversees her grandchildren’s education.

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The Little Brother
Less than a year old when the family is forced to leave their village, the little brother is three when the story ends. In that time he suffers greatly from malnutrition, and as he grows older, his older sister notices that he barely speaks, a result, she believes, of having too little food during their journey.

The Mother
Similar to the father, we know nothing about the mother except that she left one day for the store and never returned, forcing the narrator’s grandparents to take over responsibilities for the children during the war.

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