Nadine Gordimer

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Nadine Gordimer’s short story “Town and Country Lovers” (1980) follows the developing relationship between an Austrian geologist, Dr. Franz-Josef von Leinsdorf, and a young “coloured” (mixed-race) cashier who remains nameless throughout the story. Dr. von Leinsdorf and the young girl begin an affair that ends abruptly when the relationship is discovered by police (interracial sexual relationships were illegal during apartheid). Apathy and Prejudice

From the opening paragraphs of “Town and Country Lovers,” Gordimer criticizes the apathy of Dr. von Leinsdorf who travels the world as a geologist but “has no interest in the politics of the countries he works in.” Like other well-educated Europeans in Africa, he finds no appeal in either “the remnant of white colonial life” or “idealistic involvement with Black Africa.” Despite Dr. von Leinsdorf’s apparent political indifference, he also displays class and race prejudice in his opinion of the young coloured girl. He appreciates her looks because she is “rather small and finely-made, for one of them,” although he doesn’t like the “peasant’s” gap between her two front teeth. He also feels a paternal instinct towards her, a typical colonial attitude, viewing her as an “obliging underling” and a “half-literate” indigenous girl in need of his guidance. Rejection by the White Man

For Gordimer, Dr. von Leinsdorf’s apathy and inherent racism are manifestations of the rejection that characterized apartheid in South Africa. In her essay, “1959: What is Apartheid?”, Gordimer writes, “In all of a black man’s life, all his life, rejection by the white man has the last word. With his word of rejection apartheid began, long before it hardened into laws and legislation, long before it became a theory of racial selectiveness and the policy of a government.” Dr. von Leinsdorf’s subtle dismissal of the young girl as his inferior is evident throughout “Town and Country Lovers,” but his complete rejection of her is made clear when the...
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