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Nadine Gordimer “Comrades” Commentary

The following extract is from the collection of short stories by Nadine Gordimer called ”Comrades”. In the story, a white liberal woman befriends black protestors and provides them with food. However, it was unusual to have this kind of friendship during the Apartheid system where the whites and the Coloureds were segregated. The title ”Comrades” is ironic as the friendship between those two races, Europeans and Africans, was forbidden during the Apartheid system. Nevertheless, in this extract, Gordimer portrays the friendship between the white liberal woman and a group of Black youngsters, though it is uneasy at first.

Gordimer’s description of the young men clashes with the description of the white liberal woman. The author highlights the contrast between the European and African cultural backgrounds through contrasting language and diction. The men are presented as hungry, “they are stacking their plates and cups,” suggesting they lack basic commodities in contrast to the woman’s wealthy house, which has a symbolic significance as the Blacks were stripped off not only of essential human rights such as education, “they are children…for whom the school is a battleground”, but also wealth creating an inequality in the South African society.

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Gordimer uses irony as the woman is presented as generous, providing food to the youngsters, which was unusual due to the barriers between the two races set up by the government and engraved by stereotypical views of the older generation. The insignificant and detailed description of her fruit bowl, ”…perhaps there is a peach or two under the grape leaves with which she likes to complete an edible still life,” symbolizes the Whites’ wealth and opportunity to buy luxuries while the Blacks lacked basic needs such as food. The repetition of the pronoun ”they” groups the Black youngsters into one insignificant crowd to which all the Coloured people belonged.

Gordimer reflects the segregation in the Apartheid as the Coloureds were classified as inferiors to the White people even though there were differences among the people of colour, which shows the ignorance from the Whites. Gordimer suddenly uses the third-person pronoun ”he” at the end of the extract without introducing the character properly to symbolize the loss of identity of the Black people. The detailed secretion of the white woman in comparison to the simple diction to describe the men suggests that the narrator might be from the white woman’s perspective, symbolizing that the Whites had little knowledge of the Blacks’ situation. The clashing description of the woman and the black youngsters, in effect, makes the reader realize the enormous barriers that the Apartheid system has created between the Whites and the Coloureds.

Gordimer’s use of simple sentence structure reflects the necessities the men needed and their lack of education due to the laws violating the human rights of the Blacks during the Apartheid system. In combination with the complex sentence structures, Gordimer conveys to the reader the numerous problems arising from the Apartheid system. For example, the simple sentence ”They eat.” consists only of one verb and one pronoun to portray how the Blacks are focused on the food and ”overwhelmed” by her hospitality. ”They stare at the food, but their eyes seem focused on something she can’t see; something that overwhelms.” Illustrates the surreal nature of this situation as the Blacks were used to being suppressed by the Whites, as any interaction apart from employer and employee relationship was forbidden by the law.

The narrator uses commas to separate the simple statements, ”They need carbohydrate, they are hungry, they need it, they burn it up.” to magnify the number of basic commodities the Africans lacked. This, in effect, encourages the reader to sympathize with the Africans and view them as equal human beings greatly suppressed by the South African government ruled by the Europeans. Gorimer also uses complex-in-structure sentences to depict the numerous problems that the Africans had to face due to their skin colour as they were considered meaningless and less intelligent than those with a pale complexion.

”They are the children… for whom the school is a battleground, a place of boycotts and demonstrations, the literacy of political rhetoric…” The author effectively depicts the injustice done to the Africans during the Apartheid system, which makes the narrator feel sympathetic and ashamed that the people who did the wrongdoing are from her social class. She is trying to make a change by providing food, but the reader senses the hopelessness in her actions, “the spokesman holds out the emptied sugar-bowl to her.-Please-. She hurries to the kitchen and brings it back refilled.” The words ”she hurries” reflect her desperation to mark an end to the Black people’s suffering. Still, Gordimer suggests that she is not able to eradicate the negative implications of the Apartheid system, such as inequality.

This is illustrated through the portrayal of barriers, “He says Ekskuus? And she realizes he doesn’t understand English.”, resulting from the Apartheid system and cultural differences. There is also a symbolic significance in numbers. Only one white woman is trying to help and feed all the four Black men, implying that her hospitality will have no lasting consequences as the Blacks will be hungry again. The author’s purpose is to call upon all the readers, especially the Whites in South Africa, to act collectively and aid the Blacks as they are human beings.

The author uses punctuation to reflect the woman’s slight uneasiness and distrust to symbolize, in general, the distrust of Black people by the Whites. Gordimer portrays the difficulty of trusting the Black people in South Africa to the readers, asking them to consider how the woman can trust the Black youngsters in her own house when she was stereotypically taught not to by her peers and the government. The reader conveys the uneasiness through the use of ellipses, ‘…milk everybody?..” implying that the woman is slightly hesitant about offering food to the Blacks while the government discouraged any kinds of friendship between different races.

The end of the extract is dominated by question marks, ”…for leading a boycott? Throwing stones at the police?” as Gordimer symbolizes the stereotypical values of the older generation questioning the young generation, doubting their new approaches to solve the problems resulting from the Apartheid system. Gordimer suggests that such stereotypical views make it more difficult for the Whites to accept the Black in the society resulting in segregation. In conclusion, Gordimer presents Black men differently than white women to highlight the inequality in apartheid.

The friendship between them is uneasy and unnatural as Gordimer implies that the stereotypical views engraved in the Whites’ minds prevent many friendships between the Whites and the Blacks. Gordimer’ purpose of depicting such friendship in her short story ”Comrades” is to encourage the readers to break stereotypical barriers between the Blacks and the Whites, suggesting that the Blacks are equal human beings lacking basic commodities such as food, education and shelter due to suppression of the Coloureds during the Apartheid system.

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