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July's People > Week 4

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Week 4: chapters 17- 20


message 2: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Well, what on earth do you make of that ending?


message 3: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new)

Anastasia Kinderman | 666 comments Mod
Alexa wrote: "Well, what on earth do you make of that ending?"

Are they being rescued....? If they are how did someone know where they were?


message 4: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Nope, I don't think they're being rescued, personally I think Daniel told someone in the resistance about them and they're being arrested and questioned and perhaps killed. But I think Gordimer leaves that vague - she lets us decide if the people in that helicopter are there to save them or kill them. (Although who would bother to save them, they're of no importance, but as a symbol they are more important to be eliminated.) None-the-less, Gordimer leaving that vague is fine with me, it's speculative fiction, so we can speculate about the ending, that feels completely appropriate.

What absolutely astounds me though, is what is she trying to say about Maureen's final actions? She describes her as being terrified (of the helicopter, because what else could it be?), yet then she describes her as running towards the copter as a "solitary animal." She implies therefore that she has abandoned her family. But an animal only runs towards something it fears if it is trying to protect others, its young. So in this case, I'm not complaining that she left the ending vague, no, I believe she is intentionally giving us completely contradictory information! I would love to hear how others interpret it!


message 5: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new)

Anastasia Kinderman | 666 comments Mod
I'm just going to interpret it as them being saved because Daniel betraying them is kind of horrible to think about. Good analysis though. It leaves me a little less confused.


message 6: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments This is the bit that left me so confused: First the description of her terror, “Fear climbs her hand-over-hand to throttle, hold her.” I was assuming that this would be fear of the helicopter (which seemed much more likely) but now I'm left thinking that perhaps it was fear that she’ll be kept from a possible rescue, that she'll be left behind.

And then we have: “Like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their lone survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility.” So she has become a beast? She alone loses her personhood? Or is she running towards her fear?

After thinking about it a lot, the explanation I'm most leaning towards is this: Maureen logically knows that the helicopter is far more likely to contain enemies than friends, and she is justly terrified. Yet then, like an animal, she finds herself irrationally running. Here, I think Maureen is running towards the technology she craves, the civilization, the modern world, and away from the subsistence living. She has irrationally decided that anyone who can fly a helicopter is her friend, a representative of the "civilized" world, and therefore orders of magnitude better than this life she has been living, even if that person wants to kill her. So her few weeks of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle has driven her to madly seek technology, evil or not, and at the same time abandon her children, showing that she is even more of an animal, even less of a creature than an animal (who will likely protect its young) and far less worthy as a human being than all the other women of that village, who can and have been raising their children under these conditions for generations.


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments Alexa, if there is truth in your interpretation (I have none myself), I would have thought that Bam would have a sort of "breakdown" rather than Maureen (who seemed to do).


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments I want to thank Lisa and Carolien for the links to helpful info and images.

This book was difficult for me and their input gave me the impetus to not give up on it.


message 9: by Carolien (new)

Carolien (carolien_s) | 134 comments It was a pleasure, Andrea. Context definitely helped in reading his book, otherwise I suspect I would have struggled a lot more as well.

I don't really know what to make of the ending. The one concern that I have, is that if Daniel betrayed them, the whole village could be attacked in retaliation for keeping them. At the very least, July and his immediate family would probably also be in danger.


message 10: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 28 comments Ah, I am so sorry I didn't participate in this discussion after having voted for this book. I did buy the audio version of the book and have listened to some of it but I have not finished it yet. I do intend to finish it and come back to read what you all have to say about it, so thanks to the admins and members here for keeping these discussions up.


message 11: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I can only imagine that hearing it must be a much different experience than reading it - looking forward to hearing your opinions!


message 12: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
Did not like the book and I doubt if I will ever read any by Nadine Gordimer again. I did think that Maureen was running toward the helicopter because it was the only chance she had to escape. If, instead she was killed, I don't think she would care. The day before she goes to find July and there is this quote: "The habit of the pace came from spare-time attention given to many things, back there: your health, your sense of injustice done, your realization of living a life that was already over..." I'm not sure what this means, but I am choosing to believe that Maureen knew her life was over and didn't want to live it any more.


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments Emily, I probably won't read NG again either.

Undoubtedly, she CAN write. I was just put off that she chose to write this book in a way that was not easy (for me at least) to follow.


message 14: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new)

Anastasia Kinderman | 666 comments Mod
☯Emily wrote: "Did not like the book and I doubt if I will ever read any by Nadine Gordimer again. I did think that Maureen was running toward the helicopter because it was the only chance she had to escape. If..."

I don't think I picked up on that line, Emily. Good eyes!


message 15: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I read that at the time as being this life, with abundant servants, profiting from apartheid, was over, in other words that the lifestyle was over. But I guess you're right, that it could also be read as your actual life was over. Another example of the way Gordimer sends out multiple meanings!


message 16: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
Alexa wrote: "I read that at the time as being this life, with abundant servants, profiting from apartheid, was over, in other words that the lifestyle was over. But I guess you're right, that it could also be ..."

I interpreted it that way at first, but since it came right before the ending, I thought it might mean just the opposite.


message 17: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments It was a hard book to read, but I think this conversation about what it all meant is wonderful!


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments Alexa, because of what the book meant--the subject matter was why I was so upset at how it was written.


message 19: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
That is what upset me about the book too. It was so difficult to read that I felt nothing for either the blacks or the whites. I really didn't care about anything other than finishing the book! Surely, Gordimer could have created a compelling story line with proper punctuation and the use of appropriate pronouns to reduce confusion. That way, I could have felt something for the characters and the situation they were in.


message 20: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Yet, didn't it convey terror and confusion and total dislocation and loss of sense of self through that writing style?


message 21: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
Perhaps, but I was just confused. I still am. What was the relationship between July and Maureen? Why did she seem so antagonistic towards him instead of grateful? Why threaten to reveal to his wife that he had a mistress in the city?


message 22: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments OK, not that I have any answers, but I'm willing to throw out some possibilities. I think Maureen's overwhelming feeling towards July was guilt. All her life she had told herself that she was "a good person." She had given him time off and let his woman visit him etc. But how can one really congratulate oneself for being a good employer under apartheid? It's sort of like congratulating oneself for being a "good" slave-owner.

So when July first brought them to his village, she thought it was their just dues for being such good employers, that they had earned this. Gradually she becomes aware just how appalling the conditions are and had been, and just how appalling their blindness had been, and she begins to realize how guilty she is, and she begins to realize that July has nothing to be grateful for. So if July is not grateful, then just why did he bring them there? The guiltier she feels, the more terrified she becomes. Guilt alone is a highly destructive emotion which causes people to lash out in all kinds of inappropriate and irrational ways. Guilt that then causes terror, for your life, for your children's lives, for your entire sense of self could result in anything!

So her relationship with July is a massive mix of guilt, nostalgia for the good past feelings, terror, attempts to reassure herself that she wasn't that bad, and fear about his intentions. Given her terror of what the future might bring, a little attempt to assert some feeble power over him makes sense to me.


message 23: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
Wonderful analysis! I think I understand it a little better. I'm glad you are willing to still discuss it with me long after everyone else finished reading it.


message 24: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments It's not an easy book to forget!


message 25: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I was just wondering what I thought of it when I first finished it, so I just went back to take a look at my initial review - really I'm not sure my opinion is much different than yours - this is what my review at the time said:
"How can I say I “liked” this? I didn’t. It was grim and depressing and powerfully difficult to read. It may well be a great novel, but I had to force myself to read every single page. It forced me to confront my own gathering horror at the fact that I was indeed horrified at seeing deep injustice being over-turned. Not only is it an intensely emotionally wrenching novel, Gordimer’s narrative flows right through thought, dialogue, memory, and action without distinction. The literary difficulty and the emotional difficulty twine around and play off of each other to create a tour-de-force of discomfort."


message 26: by Carolien (new)

Carolien (carolien_s) | 134 comments That's a very good summary, Alexa. I think living in South Africa makes some of it easier to understand and at least some of the cultural references more accessible. That said, I doubt if I would reread the book.

I'm not sure if this is regarded as her best work. I'd be interested to read Burger's Daughter which looks at the relationship between a daughter and her parents who were part of the anti-apartheid movement. I have read Gillian Slovo's biography of her parents and her own life in that situation and it is worth considering.


message 27: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new)

Anastasia Kinderman | 666 comments Mod
Personally, I really enjoyed it. Or I enjoyed it as much as one can when the topic being written about is racism, prejudice, and the subtle ways even well-meaning privilege enforces this prejudice.
I'm not sure why but it wasn't very hard for me to get over her writing. I would've preferred the style to be different (sometimes I had to stop and go back to figure out who was talking) but overall I found it to be kind of like a slowly moving brook. I just relaxed and went along for the ride. Not sure if I want to read anything else by her....we'll see.


message 28: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I envy your reaction!


message 29: by ☯Emily , The First (new)

☯Emily  Ginder | 1235 comments Mod
Anastasia wrote: "Personally, I really enjoyed it. Or I enjoyed it as much as one can when the topic being written about is racism, prejudice, and the subtle ways even well-meaning privilege enforces this prejudice..."

My brook got stuck on a boulder and it took a long time to find a way around it.


message 30: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments I just read a fascinating review of this by Margaret Atwood. It's in her collection of essays, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose and was originally published in The Chicago Sun Times in 1981.

She says some really interesting things, among them:
"July is no angel. His rescue of them is motivated more by habit and the desire to maintain a status quo in which he has a relatively favoured place than by charity."
"Now that they think he's no longer their servant, the Smales desperately want July to turn out to be a person much like themselves. Just as desperately, July clings to his role, because the only way he can see these people is as rich masters whose position and therefore his own will soon be restored."
"July's People delivers its characters over to the reader with a chilling precision and a degree of understanding which would not ordinarily be called compassionate."
"The situation in South Africa is already impossible on any human level, Gordimer is saying, not only for the blacks but for the whites. The blacks at least have a sense of belonging. The whites, if the Smales are any example, don't even have that."
I really enjoyed her point of view!


message 31: by Anastasia Kinderman, The Only (new)

Anastasia Kinderman | 666 comments Mod
Thanks for that, Alexa. I think it helps clarify some of the conversations between July and the Smales later in the book.


message 32: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Great POV thanks Alexa.


message 33: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisadannatt) | 304 comments Alexa wrote: "OK, not that I have any answers, but I'm willing to throw out some possibilities. I think Maureen's overwhelming feeling towards July was guilt. All her life she had told herself that she was "a ..."

I think this book has been haunting me, it creeps into my thoughts when I'm busy or quiet, so much seems to trigger thoughts of this book.

I was very quiet when we discussed it, finding it easier to listen than articulate my thoughts. I've got some more words now, but really not enough.

I've been reading Their Eyes Were Watching God (very slowly) and the language and dialect takes me a while to get into. I can hear the accents in my head, but that takes a while. I wondered if people from the USA, or with more exposure to this particular southern dialect find it easier? Because it was like that for me with July's people. I could hear July perfectly in my head, a man most likely educated at a 'Bantu' school receiving only enough education to allow him to serve in some menial way. His English is simplistic and heavily accented. initially he is a servant, acting in a well known role (he served tea, in a time of survival, in the best crockery that he had). Slowly, in this new world, his role shifts, he is more man and more leader than before and this enables him to speak his mind to Maureen. But I think his two selves would struggle and he may be conflicted.

Alexa, you mention the concept of goodness. I recently had a conversation with someone much older who was explaining how ignorant they were of the severity of Apartheid, how shocked the were by the TRC. Apartheid means 'separateness' and there were those who erroneously believed that that was all that Apartheid was- People of different races merely living apart, but under only slightly different conditions. I think Maureen would not have fully realized how poor & struggling July's family were. She considers herself a good person yet she is confronted by how little she did to improve the lives of others, to stand up against a prejudicial government. Standing up against Apartheid was not an easy thing to do at all. People were arrested, detained at length, disappeared or were killed. So perhaps turning a blind eye became easier. What stands out for me here was the pre-94 referendum, white South Africa were asked to vote for a continuation of Apartheid or an abolition of such with the creation of a democracy. The majority voted for change. There are likely many motivations here but I wonder at the ability to have a voice and be able to protest at last.

Maureen running toward the helicopter. Some lone animals will charge down a perceived threat (rhino, elephants, buffalo, some antelope). They stand so little chance of winning against the threat and so great a chance of losing yet they fight back. I think it's instinctual. There are many reasons that Maureen ran toward the helicopter, Alexa you shed so much light on that for me. I just wondered if she ran toward it because there is nothing left to lose, 'If I die, I die but I must do something' sort of thinking?

Anyway, I'm rambling and think I've been fairly tangential.


message 34: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) | 435 comments Oh no, I don't think you're being tangential at all! I love hearing your point of view! Isn't it fascinating how some books need to ferment in our minds a while.

It takes quite a mental shift to read the dialect in Their Eyes, and I think you're right, a good part of it needs "listening" to. The whole time I was reading it I kept noting passage after passage for the music in it.

I hadn't thought of that as an explanation for running towards the helicopter, that adds a whole new layer of possibility to it, the solitary animal charging the enemy - thank you!

I'm so glad you shared these thoughts!


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 315 comments Lisa, I don't think you comments are tangential at all. I'm just thankful for your choosing to share them.

I really did not understand the end of the book at all where Maureen ran to the helicopter at all.

Also, I kind of do understand July seeing himself (and perhaps others too) with a certain status because of whom he worked for as a servant.


message 36: by Mizzou (new)

Mizzou | 177 comments It has been years since I read July's People, but I remember the book because it's one of those books that does have its impact on the reader. As a native Missourian, I couldn't "hear" the voices of the characters, black and white, but I could and did read Gordimer's account of a 'turn-about' in South African life with close attention. She writes just as incisively about men's feelings as she does about women's, IMO. For instance, the white man clings to his vehicle ("bakke", was it?) even when forced to flee into the bush. July makes sure to retain his 'pass' that permits him to come and go to his job with the Smales. That showed the two men's feelings about their personal mobility, don't you see? And of course, the pass meant nothing in July's village, and the bakke was useless after the last drop of gas was gone!


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