White Women, Black Revolutionaries: Sex and Politics in Four Novels by Nadine Gordimer
Nancy Topping Bazin
As early as 1959, the white South African novelist, essayist, and short story writer Nadine Gordimer wrote an essay, "Where Do Whites Fit In?" As the black struggle for power intensified and finally achieved its primary goal of black majority rule in 1994, Gordimer continued to reflect upon this question. Her eighth novel, July's People ( 1981), is a psychological and political fable. It celebrates a white woman's readiness to reject the relationships and privileges that bind her to the white world and her readiness to embrace the new South Africa of an emancipated black majority. The novels written before July's People focus primarily on a movement away from the remnants of colonial mentality harbored within the white world; the three novels following July's People emphasize a radical commitment to the black-dominated social order of the future. July's People and nine screenplay versions of the novel ( 1982-1987) are central to understanding the philosophy that underlies her three later novels-- A Sport of Nature ( 1987), My Son's Story ( 1990), and None to Accompany Me ( 1994). Along with the novel and screenplays of July's People, these three novels envision possible answers to the question, "Where do whites fit in, in the New Africa?" ( Gordimer, "Where Do Whites" 31).
Gordimer pointed out that "belonging to a society implies two factors which are outside reason: The desire to belong . . . and acceptance" ( "Where Do Whites"32). What must white South Africans do to prove themselves worthy of black acceptance? What can possibly persuade blacks to accept whites when "they have had so much of us . . . that all they crave is to have no part of us"? (32). In Gordimer's fictional world, black male leaders are more likely to accept a white woman than a white man. As the power begins to shift among whites and blacks, white females and black males move closer to becoming equals. On the hierarchical ladder, they are the middle levels between white men at the top and black women at the bottom. Furthermore, between white females