Country Lovers by Nadine Gordimer
Author: Nadine Gordimer (born 1923) has made her career under difficult circumstances. Born an English-speaking Jew in South Africa, she resented and resisted the pressure to conform to the white supremacist attitudes embodied in the system of apartheid. She has been politically active most of her life, and has often written about the relationships among white radicals, liberals and blacks in South Africa. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Although she is one of the most distinguished of modern female writers, she resists being classed as a feminist.
Context: Apartheid consisted of numerous laws that allowed the ruling white minority in South Africa to segregate, exploit and terrorize the vast majority: Africans, mostly, but also Asians and ‘Coloureds’ (people of mixed race). In white-ruled South Africa, black people were denied basic human rights and political rights. Their labour was exploited and their lives segregated. Under Apartheid, racist beliefs were enshrined in law and any criticism of the law was suppressed. Apartheid was racism made law. It was a system dictated in the minutest detail as to how and where the black population would live, work and die.
Summary: Set in Apartheid South Africa, this story is about the lustful relationship between a white man and a black woman. Paulus is the son of a white farmer. Thebedi is a black woman who works on the farm. They pursue a secret friendship when they are young, giving each other secret gifts. Paulus then goes to veterinary college. The two begin a hidden sexual relationship. Shortly after marrying a man from her village who had always liked her, Thebedi has a mixed race child. When Paulus returns from college, he visits her and the baby and tells her to hide it and get rid of it. She refuses. He returns a second time and the child is ill with diarrhoea. He tells her he will give it something. Whilst she stands outside listening to him, she hears the noises of the baby going into a deep sleep. The baby then dies. Some of the other women in the village report the incident and a charge of murder is filed against Paulus. Thebedi is emotional when giving evidence. When the case comes to trial a year later, she has had another child and changes her story, saying that Paulus did not feed the child anything. The court dismisses the case on the grounds that there was no evidence the child was Paulus’. The court agrees that the two probably had a sexual relationship. Throughout all of this, Thebedi's husband stands by her. Paulus is praised by the press for being freed, but he does not want the attention. His family are very ashamed. Thebedi tells the newspapers that the relationship was just a thing of their childhood.
Themes: Love, friendship and lust, marriage and sex, death and murder, racism and prejudice, wealth and education.
Cross referencing: Veronica (wealth, education, friendship, love), The Gold Cadillac (racism and prejudice), A Stench of Kerosene (love, family, death/suicide, unwanted children)
• ‘The farm children played together when they were small; but once the white children go away to school they soon don’t play together any more.’ • ‘The trouble was Paulus Eysendyck did not seem to realise that Thebedi was now simple on of the crowd of farm children down at the kraal.’ • ‘There was a risk someone would discover her or traces of her presence if he took her to his own bedroom.’ • ‘ “Don’t take it out. Stay inside. Can’t you take it away somewhere? You must give it to someone.”’ • ‘The Defence did not contest that there had been a love relationship between the accused and the girl, or that intercourse had taken place, but submitted that there was no proof that the child was the accused’s.’ • ‘The young man refused to accept the congratulations of the press and public and left the court...