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July's People

July's People, Burger's Daughter

gordimer maureen life novel

a novel by Nadine Gordimer, published in 1981. To escape from a situation of siege, a white South African couple, Bam and Maureen Smales, leave their urban home with their children to seek refuge with their erstwhile servant, July, in his remote village. Their encounter with the realities of black South African life transforms entirely their hitherto limited perspective, forcing them to examine their relationship to privilege, to the comforts of ‘civilized’ life, and above all to July. The bond of servant and master is reversed as the Smaleses become entirely dependent upon July. Balanced subtly between critical realism and tensely constructed futuristic allegory, July's People, with its immediate predecessor, Burger's Daughter, marks a radical turning point in Gordimer's career. Liberalism, once central in her fictional discourse, has reached its limits and failed as a solution for racial equality and harmony; individual compassion is inadequate, and a total reconstruction of society is required. The fragmentation of Maureen's family serves as a metaphor for the dismantling of antiquated Eurocentric structures. Whereas the protagonists of other fictions by Gordimer choose revolutionary political activism as their only escape from the ossified situation they encounter, Maureen, at the chilling climax of the novel, is seen escaping from the harsh reality of village life to an uncertain future symbolized by the appearance of a helicopter in the distance.

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