Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

South Africa Reformed: Social Changes in Nadine Gordimer's the House Gun

Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

South Africa Reformed: Social Changes in Nadine Gordimer's the House Gun

Article excerpt

Gordimer's second post-apartheid novel, The House Gun, explores the tough obligations of the New South Africa while also investigating the changes in the social fabric that the arrival of democracy with its principles of liberty and freedom had brought about. Gordimer's postapartheid novels display new features, portraying mostly new social phenomena. One of these new features has to do with the privileged place she has given to the private field over the public, even though politics has not completely disappeared from her writing. Thus, in The House Gun, Gordimer focuses, particularly, on a white family, represented by the Lindgards, and on the character of Hamilton Motsamai, a brilliant black lawyer who is representative of a new, emergent black class. The interaction between the white family and Motsamai constitutes the core of the novel and the changes that their relationship undergoes are representative for an entire nation.

The Lindgards are presented as a white, middle-class, liberal family, "not racist, if racist means having revulsion against skin colour, believing or wanting to believe that anyone who is not your own colour or religion or nationality is intellectually and morally inferior"1. Ascribing their political interests to the sphere of liberalism which set out to promote human individuality, pluralism, equality before the law, diversity and the dignity of the person, Gordimer may have identified with the Lindgards, as she, herself, was an active white liberal humanist. Of course, this is not the first time when Gordimer takes an interest in exploring characters with a bourgeois liberal-orientated background; we have encountered "liberal characters" as far back as The Lying Days and A World of Strangers or as recent as None to Accompany Me. Nevertheless, the Lindgards are a special case, mainly because of their tragedy and the post-apartheid setting which forces them to reassess everything they have known about "The Other Side".

Claudia is a doctor and she has always known that there is no difference in the feel of somebody's skin, independent of its colour and Harald is a deeply religious person who also considers all people to be equal. Nevertheless, their lives are haunted by biases. During apartheid they have lived privileged apolitical lives in order to avoid conflict with the establishment: "neither had joined movements, protested, marched in open display, spoken out in defence of these convictions. They thought of themselves as simply not that kind of person; as if it were a matter of immutable determination, such as one's blood group, and not failed courage"2. Yet, by admitting that they had no "guts" to defy the apartheid laws3, the reader might assume that they passively supported them.

The Lindgards' jobs, as David Medalie and Karina Szczurek point out, are "socially relevant"4, especially in the postapartheid context. The narrator says that Claudia, although working in the private sector, meets "the need in areas of the city and the once genteel white suburbs of the old time where in recent years there was an influx, a great rise in and variety of the population. She had regularly fulfilled this obligation."5 Similarly, Harald is the CEO of "a large insurance firm with a pragmatically enlightened policy towards blacks"6 which is involved in negotiating "an agreement on terms of low-interest loans that would put up walls and a roof for thousands of poor people"7. We are told that "it gave him some satisfaction to think that he was able to be constructive in improving the lives of his fellow men, even if he had failed to follow Christ's teaching in destruction of the temples of their suffering"8. Gordimer clearly underlines here the feelings of guilt and shame which were "the country's lingua franca"9 for the liberal whites of the 1990s. Even though they fulfill their jobs and can hardly be called racists or even opportunists, "it is only the murder (committed by their son, who is racially, sexually, and ideologically much more liberated than his parents, but ironically ends up imprisoned), and the confrontation with the man from "the Other Side" (Motsamai) that shakes them out of their racial niche"10. …

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