Social Roles in African Literature

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During the uprisings of the 1970s, Nadine Gordimer presented a very dreary and pessimistic prophecy to white and black South Africa in July's People. This prophecy suggested a probable overthrow of the apartheid system which would challenge the currently existing social and racial roles of its inhabitants. Amid the chaos, traditional roles would be overturned and new ones are formed as the Smales accept their servant's offer of refuge and flee to his village in the bush. Additionally, Zoe Wicomb describes the social and sexual roles that dominate Afrikaaners in You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town. Through a series of connected short stories, Wicomb's narrator, Frieda Shenton, grows from childhood to womanhood in a community labeled as "colored." These colored, people of racially mixed decent, were classified not on ethnic or cultural values, but rather based on skin color and appearance. To gain complete understanding of racial and sexual roles present in the southern part of Africa, one must carefully examine both July's People and You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town for semblances of an old social structure as the birth of a new nation develops. In Wicomb's You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town, we are presented with a young girl, Frieda, transforming into a woman in a rural African village. Frieda is faced with the realization that apartheid has ghettoized the coloreds to live in dreadful conditions. It is through the suppression of this ghetto life along with the suppression of racial and sexual stereotypes that Frieda removes herself and gains her independence. Frieda's changing sexuality is important for her maturation into a woman. Wicomb presents a sexual hierarchy of women as viewed from a colored perspective. Men can improve their social appearance through education, but for a woman, she must get married. A necessary ingredient for a successful marriage is to be pretty as suggested by Frieda's mother: "Poor child… What can a girl do without good looks?

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