The Novel “July’s People” by Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer’s much-acclaimed novel, July’s people of 1981, talks about the colonialism period in South Africa. The book was produced in 1981, thirteen years after the official dismissal of the apartheid regime. The book focuses on describing the apartheid regime as well as the future. It provides a revolutionary view of South Africa and the relationship between the white families and the local black slave at their service. Further, it describes the fictional liberation war of the Africans trying to build a home in their own mother country as the white dominance collapses. The epigraph on which she based the novel and the foreseeing of a new South Africa is related to the work of Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks who talks of the old dying and the new one that cannot be born. (Gramsci). It suggests an error of revolution where the whites will lose their identities and emerge a new identity. She condemns the white settlers for what she claims to be the failure of the Europeans to recognize and appreciate that their well-being owes to the unjust apartheid regime.
Nadine uses the term interregnum to refer to the period between the old apartheid regime and the new one. She presumed the period to be chaotic with unfamiliar norms and values. The book predicts great violence between the Africans and the white settlers. However, in 1994, then during the revolution, the extremity of the violence was not as bad as Nadine had viewed it (Healy-Clancy 260). The book also reveals that though the white settlers supported the apartheid, some treated Africans fairly and decently, such as the master for July was always concerned of her wellbeing (Gordimer 96). Some disregarded the racist policies and even tried to fight against them.
In the book, Nadine foresees the inevitable slump of the white dominance in South Africa and the uprise of new political and social situations that will require the whites to adopt another life of subordination. The book presents a dystopian critique of the regime and utopian predictions of an egalitarian post-apartheid period (Lazovic 156). In the work, Nadine describes the emergence of an African administration in South Africa, where both the blacks and the whites are equal in all dimensions of life. She analyses the full impact of the apartheid rule on the South Africans, primarily based on gender (Lazovic 156). She widely narrates the tale of the white and black community relations during settler colonialism. One major aspect she talks about is the dismemberment of African family structures during the apartheid regime. The story describes the lasting adverse effects of colonization on the men and how devastating it was on their husbandry and fatherhood roles.
While overtly majoring in giving a foresight of a future South Africa, the novel talks a lot about the apartheid period and its consequences on the family structure and parenting roles. Africans were subjugated by the ideology of slavery to the settler colonialism state. The black families faced systematic destruction due to the capitalist system of the colonist. Africans were to go and serve as enslaved people in the white farms, making them abandon their families for a long time. In some cases, they were moved from one farm to another distant one, never to return home (Lazovic 157). The book further analyses the long-term effects of a slavery system on the continued dismemberment of black families. The role men played in husbandry, fatherhood, and leading the family was also disrupted as they were always absent.
The apartheid regime introduced a form of race-induced poverty. The Africans were subjected to harsh slavery, torture, and extreme poverty. As they served in the white settlements, they were paid meager wages that limited their economic freedom and subjected them to excessive poverty levels. Like July in the novel, Africans had to be submissive to their European masters and be duty-bound. As their children agonized in poverty and hunger, the enslaved people had to take care of the needs of the master’s child. This further illustrates the black families’ absence, forced separation, and dismemberment. The impact was because of physical abandonment and the emotional separation created by the migrant labor system.
Despite the separation from the novel, the blacks desired a lot to go back to their families. In the book, she writes, “After the fighting is over, perhaps you can stay here. You said the job was finished. If we get more land, we grow more mealies (Healy-Clancy 260).” This reveals the devastating effects the Africans faced from dismemberment and the desire to be remembered with the people of their blood. Considering the experiences the Africans encountered during the apartheid regime, they were faced with psychological disorders and torture. The thoughts of separation from one’s family and limitations on their rights affected their mental health, causing depression.
The novel dramatically impacts the lives of both whites and blacks. Besides prophesizing a free and equal South Africa, it promotes humanity by dealing with moral and racial disparities. As the apartheid regime undermined the Africans, such as July, Gordimer stood firm with the blacks. On some occasions, she even joined the African National Congress to give African leaders morale and guidance to fight for their country’s sovereignty (Healy-Clancy 260). The novel also revealed the problems Africans face in their motherland, which aided them in gathering external support in dealing with apartheid.
The book was a source of hope to the enslaved Africans and freedom fighters. The novel’s themes revealed a hopeful country where blacks and whites were generally equal. This was aligned to the struggles of the Africans that were striving to have freedom in their country. By writing about a future of equality, Africans developed a feeling of pessimism that their struggles would be successful one day (Healy-Clancy 250). By exposing African problems brought by settler colonialism, the system was criticized, making some masters treat the enslaved people well.
In conclusion, Nadine Gordimer’s novel talks about Africans’ troubles during apartheid. It explains the effects of settler colonialism on the family structure. The fathers lost contact with their families as they were enslaved to migrant labor. Slavery resulted in both physical and emotional torture to all family members. Despite displaying the family challenges African families face as fathers were taken, the novel also gives hope. The book talks of a future free of the apartheid rules. Nadine talks of a time when Africans could be liberated, and both the blacks and whites could be equal. She talks of the interregnum period of freedom and when all Africans could enjoy belonging to their own country. Though that was not the case, the regime was predicted to be destroyed by fierce fights. She pictures and gives the blacks optimism of a new life free of the previous possessions and social positions.
Gordimer, Nadine. July’s People: A Novel, 1982.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Routledge, 2020.
Healy-Clancy, Meghan. “Writing from Johannesburg: Nadine Gordimer in the global anti-apartheid movement.” African Studies, vol. 78 no.2, 2019, pp. 246-266.
Lazovic, Mihaela. “Book Review: Nadine Gordimer and the Rhetoric of Otherness in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Quaestus, 15, 2019, pp. 156-158.