Essay, Research Paper: Nadine Gordimer

Literature: Toni Morrison

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Gordimer (1923-) South African novelist and short-story writer, who received
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Gordimer's main themes are exile, loneliness
and strong political opposition towards racial segregation. She was a founding
member of Congress of South African Writers, and even at the height of the
apartheid regime, she never considered leaving her country. Nadine Gordimer was
born into a well-off family in Springs, Transvaal, an East Rand mining town
outside Johannesburg. It was the setting for Gordimer's first novel, THE LYING
DAYS (1953). Her father was a Jewish jeweller originally from Latvia and her
mother of British descent. From her early childhood Gordimer witnessed the
increase of white power at the expense of the rights of the black majority.
Gordimer was educated in a convent school and she spent a year at Witwaterstrand
University, Johannesburg without taking a degree. Often kept at home by a mother
who imagined she had a weak heart, Gordimer began writing from the age of nine
and her first story, 'Come Again Tomorrow', appeared in the Johannesburg
magazine Forum when she was fifteen. By her twenties Gordimer had had stories
published in many of the local magazines and in 1951 the New Yorker accepted a
story, publishing her ever since. From her first collection of short stories,
FACE TO FACE (1949), which is not listed in some of her biographies, Gordimer
has revealed the effects of alienation of racies on society. It was followed by
THE SOFT VOICE OF THE SERPENT (1952), and novel The Lying Days (1953), which
exhibited Gordimer's unsentimental technique, already hallmark of her narrative.
The story was based largely on the author's own life and depicted a white girl
who attempts to escape the racism of a small-town life. Other works in the 1950s
and 1960s include A WORLD OF STRANGERS (1958), OCCASION FOR LOVING (1963), and
THE LATE BOURGEOIS WORLD (1966). In these novels Gordimer studies the
master-servant relations characteristic of South African life, spiritual and
sexual paranoias of colonialism, and the political responsibilities of
privileged white South Africans. "A line in a statute book has more
authority than the claims of one man's love or another's. All claims of natural
feeling are over-ridden alike by a line in a statute book that takes no account
of humanness, that recognises neither love nor respect nor jealousy nor rivalry
nor compassion nor hate - nor any human attitude where there are black and white
together. What Boaz felt towards Ann; what Gideon felt towards Ann, what Ann
felt about Boaz, what she felt for Gideon - all this that was real and rooted in
life was void before the clumsy words that reduced the delicacy and towering
complexity of living to a race theory..." (from Occasion for Loving)
Occasion for Loving was concerned with the 'line in a statute book' - South
Africa's cruel racial law. In the story an illicit love affair between a black
man and a white woman ends bitterly. Ann Davis is married to a gentle Jew called
Boaz Davis, a dedicated scholar who has travelled all over the country in search
of African music. Gideon Shibalo, a talented painter, is black, he has a
marriage and several affairs behind. The liberal Mrs Jessie Stilwell is a
reluctant hostess to the law-breaking lovers. Boaz, the cuckold, is on the side
of the struggling South African black majority, and Ann plays with two men's
emotions. Gordimer won early international recognition for her short stories and
novels. THE CONSERVATIONIST (1974) juxtaposed wealthy white South African world
with the rituals and mythology of Zulus. BURGER'S DAUGHTER (1979), written
during the aftermath of Soweto uprising. In the story a daughter analyzes her
relationship to her father. JULY'S PEOPLE (1981) was a futuristic novel about a
white family feeing from war-torn Johannesburg into the country. Gordimer's
early short story collections include SIX FEET OF THE COUNTRY (1956), NOT FOR
PUBLICATION (1965) and LIVINGSTONE'S COMPANIONS (1971). Since 1948 Gordimer has
lived in Johannesburg and taught in the USA in several universities during the
1960s and '70s. She has written books of non-fiction on South African subjects
and made television documentaries, notably collaborating with her son Hugo
Cassirer on the television film Choosing Justice: Allan Boesak. In THE HOUSE GUN
(1998) Gordimer explored the problems of the violence ridden post-apartheid
society through a murder trial. Two white privileged liberals, Harald and
Claudia Lindgard, face the fact that their architect-son, Duncan, has killed his
friend Carl Jesperson. Where does it lead, when violence becomes the common
hell? For further reading: The Novels of Nadine Gordimer by Stephen Clingman
(1986); The Novels of Nadine Gordimer by John Cooke; Nadine Gordimer by
Christopher Heywood; Critical Essays on Nadine Gordimer, ed. by Rowland Smith
(1990); Nadine Gordimer by Dominic Head (1994); Rereading Nadine Gordimer by
Kathrin Wagner (1994) - Note 1: Gordimer's Burger's Daughter (1979) was banned
after the Soweto uprising, André Brink's Looking on Darkness (1974) was banned
by the authorities. Also J.M. Coetzee have explored in his works the effects of
apartheid - all three are among the best-known white South African writers. -
Note 2: Nadine Gordimer rejected in 1998 the candidacy for Orange Award, because
the award was restircted to woman writers. - Only nine women have received
(1901-1997) the Nobel Prize for literature: Selma Lagerlof, Sigrid Undset,
Grazia Deledda, Pearl S.Buck, Gabriela Mistral, Nelly Sachs, Toni Morrison,
Nadine Gordimer, Wislawa Szymborska
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