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Race, Gender and Female Subjectivity: Addressing the White Woman Question in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People

By: Sajda Chowdhury

Published in 1981, almost a decade before the official end of the Apartheid system, Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People attempts to foresee the consequences of the violence of Apartheid while addressing themes such as exploitation and alienation triggered by racism and the effect of political persecution on the lives of ordinary South Africans. At the heart of this emotionally fraught narrative is an exploration of the female subjective reality of the liberal white woman within the realm of socially constructed and authorized spatial segregation and a protest against the inescapable hermetic spaces occupied by black men and women. The pervasive presence of a false consciousness that dominates and negotiates such spatial segregation-particularly along gender lines is brilliantly communicated in a controlled and restrained style in July’s People.

The Smales-a family of white liberals flee from a conflict-ridden Johannesburg and seek refuge with their African servant July. The narrative subtly deconstructs the shifts in conflicting power dynamics, as the Smales struggle to accept their new-found subservience to July. The appropriation and misappropriation of power play is engulfed and internalized as part of the collective consciousness of people living in a racially divided country where the ’white’ woman question is only a dismembered fragment of the whole. Failure to hold on to her traditionally assumed role, Maureen Smales resists the dissemination of power inequalities as she constantly attempts to efface the blurred relationship lines between July and herself. The paper seeks to underline the harsh realities of female subjectivity drawing on racial and gender spaces and attempting to open up corridors for further interrogation on the bleak future of the white woman minority in apartheid South Africa.

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