Nadine Gordimer Literary Analysis
Nadine Gordimer “share[d] the fear of [Nelson] Mandela;” that South Africa “[would] stay only halfway to freedom,” and like Mandela, Gordimer strived to conquer her fears (Dreifus, “Nadine Gordimer”). Nadine Gordimer’s collection of literary works represent the psychology, humanity, and history of the political adversities within South Africa. Gordimer chose to reside in her home country, South Africa, even when she had the option to leave during the many years of political corruption. Using contemporary themes and symbolic images, Gordimer successfully depicts “broader social and historical patterns” and “symbolism and complexity” within her short stories and novels (Reidhead, “The Norton Anthology”). Her themes such as political corruption, racism, and voluntary ignorance and how those relate to love, family, and friendship, detail her strong views on politics, and how she condemns tenderpreneurism.
Gordimer emigrated to South Africa with her two Jewish parents who originally lived in England. Even as the government grew exceedingly worse, she decided to stay in South Africa so she could commit to a life of political activism. Ironically, when Gordimer began writing to combat oppression, the government began to ban her books, and by doing so, they inexplicably brought attention to their own corrupted system, and therefore, encouraged Gordimer’s literary impact. Using objective viewpoints, Gordimer fought for political peace without “let[ting] herself become a propagandist” (Lyden, “Writer Nadine Gordimer Was An…
.”). With various perspectives, Gordimer details the psychology behind politics and their general impact on the world. In Gordimer’s short story “Once Upon a Time,” she addresses how even the financially and socially stable people are affected by power abuses. Gordimer uses piercing images and examples of society’s forced ignorance to draw attention to the general issue. In the story, a woman’s husband states that “there are police and soldiers and tear gas and guns to keep [the rioters] away,” which depicts the state of denial that those who attempt to live “happily ever after” remain within as they attempt to justify malfeasance.
Gordimer’s short stories and novels paint a vast picture of the many perspectives related to how a government can put a society in ruins. Her collection of work draws attention to South Africa’s government as a whole by addressing the individual tenderpreneurs within it. Her portrayals of the many perspectives of those enduring corruption is one of her methods to initiate a change. Gordimer has a strong understanding of the human nature. When one participates in tenderpreneurism and loses their morals for their own personal benefit, the rest of the crowd typically begins to follow, which is a common psychology trait that Gordimer recognizes and portrays. She addresses “the sea-change of the imagination” in her short story, “Loot,” and she believes that one’s positive change in imagination, or point of view, can alter the minds of others.
This “sea-change” marks the transition within her short story from the panicking general population to the one man who doesn’t give into the temptation of causing more chaos within a world that’s already chaotic. Even though most of her stories have contrasting contemporary meanings, she intertwines the psychology and history of politics within her story to inexplicitly prove a general point. Gordimer uses her vast understanding of the human mind to connect governmental adversities to social and personal adversities, such as class, money, and race discrimination. Her most prominent theme is race discrimination, which is prevalent in a multitude of her short stories as well as her novels. According to Barbara J Eckstien, Gordimer’s work addresses the fact that South Africa “perpetrate[s] sets of gender and racial ideologies” (“Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Laureate In…”). Frequently, Gordimer uses examples of multi-racial relationships to draw attention to the problems that the flawed governmental system of South Africa creates in the personal lives of others, and “[i]n its best fictional form this interracial intimacy asserts itself as more than an allegory for a nonracial state” (Eckstien, “Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Laureate…”).
In Gordimer’s short story “Country Lovers,” she creates disturbing images of how an interracial relationship was lead into ruins by politics and eventually led to the death of an innocent, interracial child. The final sentence of the story states that a black woman of a past interracial couple was “interviewed by the Sunday papers, who spelled her name in a variety of ways” after she went through traumas that led to the loss of her child. This concluding sentence was written to convey the inhumane treatment of the black people in South Africa. By portraying the woman as having low importance, even in the conclusion of a newspaper that embraces racism, Gordimer portrays to what extent different races are consistently discriminated against. Gordimer uses deep, emotional connections to draw attention to politics.
Her method to draw people into her stories is to use personal examples that vaguely describe political situations. Such as, in “The Conservationist,” she paints images of daily life in a politically corrupt state where ” the blacks had built [buildings] for their employers, to keep blacks out” in order to depict the irony and injustice of a world where everything is segregated and government systems are skewed. By connecting emotions to injustice, she makes her aim clearer to those reading her stories. The tragic occurrences in “Country Lovers,” the injustice in “The Conservationist,” the destruction in “Loot,” and the striking images in “Once Upon a Time,” all paint a picture of how Gordimer ties emotions to the greater political picture in order to make corrupt politics more relatable and real. In “The Soft Voice of the Serpent,” Gordimer uses themes of temptation to discretely paint a picture of how people tend to be drawn to what is relatable. In the short story, a man finds a connection between him and a locust with a missing leg, and the connection is drawn to a halt when the man realizes the locust can fly.
By using this emotional story, Gordimer draws metaphorical attention to humanity’s tendency to find those who they can relate to. Gordimer’s metaphorical style acts as a veil to disguise her writings in a way to where she could sneak them past the South African government without censorship. Her use of metaphors also allows her to connect emotional situations to political situations by creating a common ground between the two. In “The Conservationist,” Gordimer frequently conveys a metaphor concerning guinea fowl eggs. She begins the story with the sentence: “Days as complete and as perfectly contained as a egg.” In African folklore, birds stand for freedom, and the guinea fowl egg, in particular, represents each individual person’s safety and the human effort for survival.
In “The Conservationist,” while a farmer believes guinea fowls are dying-out, his black slave believes that the farmer isn’t awake early enough in the morning to see the guinea fowls. This represents the farmer’s ignorance and how his view on the eggs represents his views on freedom and protection. In “Critical Survey of Short Fiction,” Gordimer’s common works such as “A Soldier’s Embrace” and “Something Out There” are both metaphorical representations of wars that represent discrimination. Both stories mention “black guerrillas” and relate them to animals who are “confined in [their] appropriate place,” and by using the image of a [baboon being] shot and slowly bleed[ing] to death from its wounds,” the “implication [behind the metaphor] is clear: a similar fate awaits the guerrillas” (1043). Frequently, the black people within Gordimer’s short stories are related to animals to stress the injustice they face.
Her metaphors act as a medium to translate politics into symbols and emotions. Decades of writing with metaphorical inspiration transformed Gordimer into the activist she is now known and praised for. By connecting love to politics, the heart to instinct, contentment to ignorance—even guinea fowl eggs to peace of mind—Gordimer inspired years of political action in South Africa. Gordimer shared her personal “sea-change of the imagination” to the citizens around her (“Loot”). With the striking, ironic comparisons of humanity’s “cruelty and grace, vulnerability and will, desires and choices,” Gordimer battled political corruption by helping individuals battle their inner corruption (Eckstien, Barbara J, Nadine Gordimer: Nobel Laureate…).