Racism is one of the most pernicious problems of the human society. It sustained on the prejudices of the whites. Racial hierarchy has come to be maintained with the rise of the modern world system

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Racism is one of the most pernicious problems of the human society. It sustained on the prejudices of the whites. Racial hierarchy has come to be maintained with the rise of the modern world system. Race is a concept that “signifies and symbolizes socio-political conflicts and interests in reference to different types of human bodies” (Winant 172). Racism is a man-made concept, with no biological basis on which discrimination between various human groups along the lines of race can be made. It may be understood as the behaviour on the part of the group of people towards another group whose physical characteristics are dissimilar to the former group. It is a behaviour that compels one group to conceive of and treat the other on the basis of the physical characteristics alone, as if it did not belong to the human race. The roots of racism lie in social and historical processes. The idea of race generated with the emergence of world political economy. As the world moved towards economic integration, along with the rise of sea-borne empire and Atlantic slave trade, there established a genealogy of race. The racial categorization of human beings, however, was a European invention (172).

Early treatment of race has been Eurocentric in approach, giving an absolute distinction between “primitive” and “civilized” people (174). Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, racial views primarily focussed at the biological level. Hence races were regarded as natural- their characteristics were given and immutable. An arbitrary European outlook associated whiteness with superiority, intelligence and virtue and blackness with ugliness, irrational behaviour, evil, barbarism, and the “criminal ‘other’” (Opie 73). The skin colour of a human being became the determining factor of his/her being good or bad and civilized or uncivilized. The religious underpinnings associated with such belief was sought to validate the irrational behaviour of the whites towards the non-whites.

The whites thus legitimized their dominance over people of other groups deemed as racially inferior to them. This relation of dominance took many forms of economic, social, cultural and political hegemony. Consequently, it became a ‘white man’s burden’ to enlighten the ignorant ones, in other words, to civilize the so-called uncivilized lot. The European ideology of racial superiority was used to explain or justify the “oppression, exploitation, or extermination” of non-European people, as evident by the Holocaust in Germany (Van Dijk 25).

The same European notion of superiority explains the persistence of racism in South Africa for three hundred years. Racism was “an inseparable part of the structure of South Africa” (Dubow 210). Hegel, a German philosopher, stated: “Africa is no historical part of the world.” He further declared that blacks had no “sense of personality; their spirit sleeps, remains sunk in itself, makes no advance, and thus parallels to compact, undifferentiated mass of the African continent” (Gilman 94).These ungrounded and unreasonable notions seem to be responsible for aggravating the already established white superiority myth. Racism may be said to have begun in South Africa with the advent of Dutch settlers (later known as Afrikaners), it gained grounds with the coming of the British and finally rooted itself deep into the South African society in the form of the policy of Apartheid from 1948 until its dissolution in 1994. Although the policies followed by the whites in South Africa before 1948 clearly had racist undertones, it became glaringly explicit with the coming of the Afrikaner National Party into power after the 1948 elections. The same year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, National Party’s victory launched an extensive program to protect white privilege (Nkiwane 281).

The Afrikaner ideology that launched the grand policy of Apartheid had religious, historical and scientific basis. The religious basis of apartheid lay in the belief of “God as the great divider” (Dubow 218). It was considered as the will of God by Afrikaners to practise segregation, as God himself ordained the separation of one nation from the other just as he separated light and dark, heaven and earth and man and woman. Quite obviously, this notion pre-supposed white supremacy in all the spheres of South African life. Historically, the Boers eulogised their tradition of heroism symbolised by the Great Trek, victory over Zulu army at Blood River and resistance to British imperialism (Dubow 224). Along with this, there developed explicit racist thoughts in the 1930s, encouraged by the Nazi ideas of race superiority. Gerrie Eloff, a geneticist and a leading Afrikaner exponent of Eugenic views, encouraged marriage between appropriate couple to weed out inferior characteristics of the race. Such views went in favour of discrimination against blacks as they were placed at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. It was pointed out that “mixing of blood between the white and black races produce[d] inferior human” therefore biologically, miscegenation was proved to be “detrimental” (Dubow 229). This scientific base combined with historical and religious interpretations, served to boost the mythical racial superiority of whites in South Africa thereby legitimizing their claim over South African land and its people.

This racial prejudice of whites was given concrete shape in the form of Apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid (literally meaning ‘separateness’) was a policy of separate development that meant to promote the various races (especially the blacks) along their own ethical lines. In practice, however, the policy was used to perpetuate the white supremacy and maintain the political-economic subordination of the non-whites. Apartheid institutionalized extreme discrimination between whites and people of other races (classified as blacks, coloureds and Indians). This discrimination pervaded in social, economic, political and educational spheres of South African society. It resulted in the marginalization of blacks in their very own country. Deliberately deprived of proper education, they were not allowed to rise above the level of labourers and domestic workers. Due to inhuman apartheid laws blacks were subjected to extreme poverty and utterly pathetic living conditions. Evicted from their own residences, millions were dumped into the townships and suburban homelands with no basic facilities required for human survival. Each and every object of human use was segregated- from hospitals, parks, beaches, buses and hotels to even benches and toilets.

In fact, these draconian laws sustained on the myth of European supremacy not only humiliated but also deprived a fellow human of all dignity. To take away from a human being the very right to exist just because he or she has a different skin colour was not only immoral but also unjustified. When the rest of the world was swirling under the wave of decolonization, apartheid in South Africa was at its summit. Innumerable laws in the constitution prescribed where a black would live, work and die. Apartheid attracted resistance from all quarters, including the literary world.

One unifying and underlying fact of literature that acts as a major source of creative force across genres, nationality and linguistic barriers, is an uninhibited urge for resistance in the writers. This resistance may emanate from an elemental unrest which is caused by some unaccepted and seemingly abhorring socio-political conditions. However, these unjust socio-political and economic conditions may further have victimized a particular section of society on the basis of their colour, caste, or ethnicity. By loudly speaking out their resistance, and thus voicing the repressed, the writers intend to establish a just society which ensures equality and liberty to every human being irrespective of their race, class, gender, caste or ethnicity.

Moreover, the recent theoretical and philosophical development in the literary arena like Postcolonialism and postmodernism tend to establish resistance against any kind of authority as a mode or fashion of literary sensitivity. Many a writers from erstwhile colonial countries have participated in the contemporary discourse of resistance against any hegemonic, colonial or empirical power structure. However, this kind of literary consciousness is quite prominent in African continent where the writers like Ngugi and Chinua Achebe have set a trend. Though hailing from a white background, Nadine Gordimer too have registered her name in the list of the protest writer, the moment she has started raising voice against the hegemonic apartheid government of South Africa. Known for the revolutionary writings replete with social responsibility, Gordimer emphasises on troubled race relationship in her writing which is not based on the relationship of difference rather the inferiority/superiority nexus.

Although writers like J.M. Coetzee, Alan Paton and Andre Brink too have portrayed depredations of apartheid in their works, Gordimer’s keen penetrating insight and minute observation since her very childhood has offered her a unique position in the contemporary history of South African socio-political arena. She has this intuitive knowledge and consciousness in herself that made her aware of the injustices of the society around her. In one of her interviews, she discloses her creative force, an acute restlessness that forces her to think differently:

You were being taught as a child that it’s wrong to tell lies but the whole society is a lie, the life you were living was a lie. The convent school I went was for whites only. When I got pocket money on Saturday and went to movies, only whites could go. Most important, the local public library—I would never have been a writer without it—was open only to white people.

So wasn’t this privilege a big lie? There was this enormous lie and all the little lies that justified it: “Blacks don’t really need the thing that we need.” So the more you grew up in that society, the more you started to question, the more you fell through one layer of lies to the next. And to find the bits of truth that were there, you had to dig into yourself, pass judgment on your parents, on everything that makes your life stable, the very structure of your life. (Mehegan 69)

The above mentioned extract from one of her interviews incessantly suggest that she has the ability to question a capitalist, hegemonic institution of the Apartheid from within. As a child she was warned to stay away from natives and she knew nothing about native life or culture. She spent most of her time by indulging in extensive reading and it was this exposure to literature that caused her to adjust her view of native people. In addition, her education in Johannesburg at the University of Witwaterstrand offered her an opportunity to read the philosophies of Marxism, nationalism and existentialism that further consolidated her stand to question the social structure of apartheid. In her attempt to resist against the established apartheid social structure, she refers society to be the situation and how in the personal lives of the black people, politics is embedded. A keen observer as she had been, she started publishing fiction from a tender age of fifteen. As she moved towards maturity her stand as a writer was further established. Most of her fiction which includes short stories and novels highlights the troubled society of South Africa during and after apartheid.

A writer’s task is to transform the experience and to enter the psyche of others. He/she should be able to observe as well as participate in the act of transformation. Through her writings, Gordimer has entered the very consciousness of South Africa and its people both black and white. She has been able to put herself not only in the mind but also in the body of her characters be it male or a female, a black or a white. Although political conditions have been an essential element in Gordimer’s work, she has primarily focussed on the complex human tensions that are generated by Apartheid. She has evoked in her works both physical landscape of South Africa and the human vicissitudes in a racially polarized society. Her achievement as a writer can be described in the words of Sture Allen during his Presentation speech:

Above all, it is people, individual men and women, that have captured her and been captured by her. It is their lives, their heaven and hell that absorb her. The outer reality is ever present, but it is through her characters that the whole historical process is crystallized.

Conveying to the reader a powerful sense of authenticity, and with wide human relevance she makes visible the extremely complicated and utterly inhuman living conditions in the world of racial segregation. She feels political responsibility, and does not shy away from its consequences, but will allow it to affect her as a writer: her texts are not agitatorial, not propagandistic. Still, her works and the deep insights she offers contribute to shaping reality. (“Nobel Prize”)

The ever present reality in her fiction reveals Gordimer’s historical and political consciousness. To her, fiction can be more impactful than chronicles of history, for a historian can give an objective account of how many blacks were displaced during forced eviction by the apartheid regime but what the displaced people felt can only be captured by a writer like her. Thus, in doing so, Gordimer became the mouthpiece of the repressed millions in South Africa. Moving from passivity and blindness to the portrayal of resistance and struggle in her works, she has provided an insight into the roots of the struggle and the mechanisms of change that no historian could have matched. She has put forward the true face of racism in all its human complexities.

Nadine Gordimer has been the most vocal and tireless critic of apartheid in South Africa. Her fiction can aptly be termed as chronicles of apartheid. For this very reason she has seen her works banned by the apartheid regime. Having refused to be let down by the censorship on her works, she continued to stay and write in South Africa. She lived through the ordeal and saw the democracy taking over the repressive government in 1994. Before 1994 her writings were often termed as political. However, she has been denying repeatedly that she had never tried to become a political writer. If at all her writing seemed to be politically charged it was because the reality depicted in them was politically charged. Because of apartheid the personal in her stories evoked the political. As she said in an interview: “My method is to let the general seep up through the individual” (Bazin and Seymour 35). She had never sacrificed private contradictions to bring out a political point. It was the personal that was always at the centre of her attention, and this interest did not shift when apartheid was abolished.

Although apartheid was over, its consequences continue to haunt the political, economic, social and private sectors of South Africa. Defying the speculations about what she would write about in the post-apartheid era, she is as ever before trying “to make sense of life....to make something coherent out of it” (Bazin and Seymour 304-05). She has continued in her explorations of post-apartheid South Africa through her writings. Maintaining her integrity as a writer who is committed to depict the truth, and despite her loyalties to the new government, she has unfailingly brought to the fore the post-apartheid dystopia in her works.

Gordimer’s contribution to the world of literature places her among the best of writers in the literary world. She can undoubtedly be called the conscience of South Africa. Although no individual can represent an entire nation’s conscience, especially of a country as diverse as South Africa but the integrity with which she has approached her subject is exceptional. At times, when most other voices could not be heard, she continued relentlessly to voice the voiceless. If her writings of protest have not influenced the political decisions, it certainly made the world witness the South African condition. She has certainly brought worldwide attention to South Africa and is one of the few South African writers known outside of the country along with Andre Brink, Njabulo Ndebele, J. M. Coetzee and Alan Paton. The universality of her fiction has appealed to the readers from all over the world and it is for this sincerity to the art and commitment to the society that she was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1991. It can be rightly said of her that nothing can be truer than her fiction.

Gordimer’s unparalled stature as a writer in the twentieth century, and the voluminous works she has produced over the years, have interested many a critics for long. However it may be pointed out that no substantial overall study of her novels has been done in recent years. One of the early studies on Gordimer is Robert F. Haugh’s Nadine Gordimer (1974) which places Gordimer in the tradition of fine artistry in fiction. Waugh, in his study has focussed primarily on the short stories thereby ignoring an equally compelling tradition that Gordimer has set through her novels. Moreover, Waugh has undermined the relative importance of Gordimer’s novels by declaring them as failures which certainly they are not. The most authoritative work on Gordimer so far, is Stephen Clingman’s The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside (1986). It focuses on the historical significance of her works published until 1981. In addition, Clingman also depicts Gordimer as reflecting different perspectives on South African liberalism in her early novels. Owing to the fact that Clingman’s book was published much before South Africa was officially rid of apartheid, it does not include other important novels she published in post-apartheid era. Consequently, it provides the reader with only one side of the South African reality that Gordimer has captured in her novels. The study fails to provide a complete picture of Gordimer’s trajectory as a writer which should include both her novels written during and after apartheid. Judie Newman’s monograph Nadine Gordimer (1988) examines the way gender complicates the intersecting themes of race, sex and colonialism in the novels. It also traces Gordimer’s own deconstruction of narrative style as a route to cultural and political decolonization. Kathrin Wagner’s Rereading Nadine Gordimer: Text and Subtext in the Novels (1994) focuses largely on the works written in the apartheid era including A Guest of Honour which is set outside South Africa as well as many short stories and non-fiction works by Gordimer. Wagner primarily examines Gordimer herself rather than her works and focuses on sub-textual strands in the fiction, which contradict author’s fore-grounded anti-apartheid discourse in the main text. Wagner has accused Gordimer of adopting a typical white racist attitude in her portrayals of white, blacks, and women. She has criticized Gordimer for adopting colonial attitude and valorizing blackness in her portrayal of blacks. While asserting that the differences between blacks and whites are unbridgeable, Wagner herself endorses one of the central assumptions on which apartheid was founded. Although the study provides some fruitful observations on the working of intentional and subconscious renderings in Gordimer’s novels, Wagner’s dependence on the ‘suggestions’ and ‘implications’ to unfold the so-called subconscious racist tendencies undermines her critique. In her critical examination however, Wagner has ignored the political and social consciousness of Gordimer’s novels.

Brighton J. Uledi-Kamanga’s Cracks in the Wall: Nadine Gordimer’s Fiction and the Irony of Apartheid (2002) is a recent study of Gordimer’s fiction, focussing on the novels and short stories. He analyses Gordimer’s use of irony as a technique to depict the human situations in the apartheid society. Uledi- Kamanga’s study takes into account the ironical presentation of South African apartheid situation in Goridmer’s five novels published between 1979 and 1990. He argues that throughout her narrative, Gordimer has made extensive use irony to bring out the inherent contradictions in the society, including the failure of liberalism. In addition, he also maintains that through the use of this technique, Gordimer has been able to attain high level of “artistic objectivity” (1).

Taking into account the previous corpus of critiques, it is observed that the above cited studies focus on varied aspects of Gordimer’s writings. Although apartheid does form an inevitable part of the discussion but the critics have either studied from the point of view of narrative technique and the use of irony or the perspective of gender and subtexts. Moreover, the above mentioned studies do not take into account the post-apartheid perspective, for none of them include any of the post-apartheid novels of Gordimer. However, this study marks a shift from the previous critical works. The aim of this study is to highlight the racial and historical consciousness depicted in her works published during as well as after apartheid. The objective is not only to bring out how she has portrayed the reality in her novels, but also to chart her unsurpassed trajectory as a writer. The present study is a close textual and contextual analysis of nine of Gordimer’s novels selected from over a period of sixty years. This time frame has provided a scope for a holistic view of Gordimer’s corpus of writing.

The study is divided into five chapters. Chapter one explores the history of South Africa focusing on the apartheid era i.e. the period between 1948 and 1994. The political, social and economic repercussions of the repressive policy have been discussed in detail in this chapter. Further, in order to bring in a wider perspective on racism as prevalent outside South Africa, a comparison has been made with the socio-economic conditions during the same period in United States of America after the abolition of slavery. Besides, I have also included the emergence of Nadine Gordimer as a writer along with the investigation into the selected works of other writers like J. M. Coetzee, Alan Paton, and Andre Brink who have written from the perspective of Apartheid. This chapter sets the background against which Gordimer’s novels are examined and paves the way for the successive chapters dealing with the selected novels in chronological order.

Chapter two is a close examination of Gordimer’s The Lying Days (1953), A World of Strangers (1958) and Occasion for Loving (1963). In these novels, Gordimer highlights the inherent discrimination in South African society through the portrayal of excruciating living conditions of blacks which gets intensified by the depiction of comparatively luxurious lives of the whites. Besides, she has brought out the inefficacy of white liberal attitude in bringing about any change in the society. Chapter three deals with The late Bourgeois World (1966), The Conservationist (1974) and Burger’s Daughter (1979). Through these novels, Gordimer registered a marked shift in her writing. Having proved the failure of liberalism, she plunges into the depiction of radical means to overthrow the apartheid. She justifies her stance by portraying her white protagonists actively involved in the anti apartheid struggle thereby finding new terms on which they could belong to the South African society. Besides, observing the increased agitation against apartheid and the decolonization of the neighbouring countries, Gordimer prophesies the demise of apartheid much before it actually collapsed. This chapter inevitably leads to chapter four which explores July’s People (1981), The House Gun (1998) and The Pickup (2001).Giving an apocalyptic civil war vision in July’s People, Gordimer foresees the complete transformation taking place in South Africa which indeed occurred, after the country went for the first ever democratic elections held in 1994. For Gordimer a new life began after the abolition of apartheid as she was now free to move beyond the subject of apartheid. Nevertheless, she continued to depict the reality that plagued the South African society, after the coming of the new government, in the form of the legacy of apartheid. The personal and the political remains no less entwined in her explorations of racially integrated South Africa. She has captured in great detail the predicament of white South Africans in changed circumstances. The veracity of her writing can be judged from the fact that despite her overt affiliations with the post-1994 regime, she has unfalteringly captured in her works the corruption and the class apartheid that came into existence after coming of the new government.

The concluding chapter five discusses the overall contribution of Nadine Gordimer in bringing about change in South Africa through her works. Through her commitment as a writer, she has been able to make herself relevant to her society. Further, the chapter also investigates into the reason why Gordimer depicted negative aspects of the so-called rainbow nation in the making by alluding to the post-apartheid socio-political condition in South Africa. However, I would like to point out that although situation may have seemed negative but Gordimer never disproved the idea of a better future in the making in her post-apartheid writings. Her post apartheid narratives are imbued with hope and endorse the possibility of an egalitarian society in true sense. My study is limited to the socio-political arguments as presented by Gordimer and does not have a bearing on South African society per se. The sole purpose of this study is to highlight the exceptional literary graph of Nadine Gordimer and her unfailing struggle against apartheid. Besides, the study also attests to her enduring quality as an artist beyond the confines of the politics of apartheid. It traces her determination to use her art as honestly and effectively as possible not only to document the complexities of her society but also to envision an alternate path to the destructive trap that racism and oppression assures.

Her novels uncover the perversity of power founded on racial discrimination as indispensable component of its social and political structure. Her fiction over the years, has responded to the ‘present’ of her society, registering the shifts and changes occurring in the society around her. Her narratives provide stories of individuals mired in or struggling out of the racist confines, in addition to the chronicles of the society’s descent into brutality and inhumanity due to blind prejudice and abuse of power. Nevertheless, it is her superb craftsmanship and a keen eye for detailing, besides the universal appeal of her fiction that has driven Nadine Gordimer to international recognition.

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