July's People

In July?s People, Nadine Gordimer gives a very detailed and knowledgeable explanation of the political turmoil within South Africa. By expressing the emotions of a family involved in the deteriorating situation and the misunderstandings between blacks and whites, she adds a very personal and emotional touch, which allows the reader to understand the true horror and terror these people experienced. Gordimer writes of how the Smales family reacts, survives, and adjusts to this life altering experience. She makes obvious throughout the book that prejudice plays a major role in uncovering the reactions of Bamford and Maureen Smales.

The Smales were a suburban, upper middle class, white family living in Southern Africa until political turmoil and war forced them to flee from their home and lives. Rebel black armies in Soweto and other areas of Southern Africa revolted against the government and the minority white race, attacking radio and television stations and burning the homes of whites. The Smales needed to get out quickly. Their servant July, whom they had always treated well and had a very uncommon relationship with, offered to guide the family to his village. The Smales, having no other options, accepted July?s offer and ran in haste and confusion to the dearth village. They knew little of the drastic adjustments they would have to make in order to survive in July?s rustic village. These adjustments would soon threaten their relationships with one another and their family?s structure.

The three Smales children, Victor, Royce and Gina, had not experienced, and therefore had not expected to live a life of luxury amongst people of their "own" kind. This innocence contributes greatly to the rate and comfort in which they adjust to living in July?s village. Bam and Maureen may not have felt prejudice towards the black race, but were certainly prejudice about the lifestyle in which they must now live, a lifestyle completely stripped of any and all luxuries they once enjoyed. All of the family members, facing a new way of life, adjust to their situation in radically different ways. Each one drifts in their own direction in search of comfort and acceptance throughout their experiences living amongst July?s people.

The first adjustment the Smales family had to make was the realization that they no longer had all of the luxuries they were used to. July says, "They looked different there-you should have seen the clothes in their cupboard. And the glasses-for visitors, when they drink wine. Here they haven?t got anything-just like us"(22). The Smales no longer live in their luxurious seven-roomed house equipped with a library, garage, swimming pool, and white china lavatory. Due to their situation, they are now subject to living in a single room hut constructed of mud walls and roofed in thatch. Dirt and cobwebs adorn the interior as well as an iron bed, parts to a broken Primus stove, and seats to their vehicle that now served as a bed for the children. The pink glass cups that July brought home to his village from the Smales? is a constant reminder of the life and the luxuries in which they were forced to leave behind. They must now live on bare necessity, carefully rationing, reusing, and saving any bit of scrap and food they can. "That was how people lived, here, rearranging their meager resources around the bases of nature, letting the walls of mud sink back to mud and then using that mud for new walls, in another clearing, among other convenient rocks"(26).

Bam and Maureen react to their situation in extreme ways, some similar and some not. The most radical adjustment in which the couple has the greatest trouble accepting is their newfound subservience to July. He has become their host, their savior, and their keeper. When July realizes the power he now holds, he takes advantage of the situation. Whether it is done innocently or with deliberate intent, it is hard to decipher. July ends up taking control of the bakkie (the Smales? car) and it?s keys, which greatly upsets the Smales. The keys symbolize power in this novel. This lever of power gives July greater control over the Smales who are reluctant to ask him to give back the keys. Bam doubts his decision of letting July keep the keys when he says, "There was the moment to ask