Envisioning a Postapartheid Future

Benjamin Graves '98 UTRA Fellow 1997

The novel's conclusion ambiguously points towards a postapartheid future. The gun having been stolen into the hands of July's counter-revolutionary (and I would argue, neo-imperialist) villagers, Maureen hears the distant sounds of a helicopter and runs toward its promise of a "migration" that parallels the Smales' displacement to the village at the novel's opening:

Above yells, exclamations, discussions and laughter, she follows the scudding of the engine up there behind cloud. She is following now with a sense made up of all senses. She sees the helicopter once again, a tiny dervish dangling out of cover towards the bush...She runs: trusting herself with all the suppressed trust of a lifetime, alert, like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their long survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility. She can still hear the beat, beyond those trees and those, and she runs toward it. She runs. (159-160)

What strikes me is the relation of this passage to the Gordimer's biographical context-namely her refusal to consider the alternative of exile. In other words, whereas Gordimer herself remains immersed in the revolutionary setting of South African politics, Maureen "runs" away from it-perhaps a subliminal projection of Gordimer's own occasional aspirations! The final line- "she runs"-perhaps leaves it up to the reader to decide exactly where Maureen is going, what future she is running to, and away from what past. What's also unclear is whether the helicopters are governmental helicopters attempting to re-establish apartheid rule, or insurrectionary black nationalist helicopters aimed at tearing it down. I myself would hope the latter.

[These materials have been adapted from a paper written for James Egan's English 160, The Invention of America, Brown University, 1997]

Gordimer OV July's People