"My Son's Story" By Nadine Gordimer: Themes and issues in the novel (when private "affairs" become public)

2306 Words Mar 11th, 2006 10 Pages
Throughout her career, the South African novelist Nadine Gordimer has wanted to explore the terrain where personal interests, desires and ambitions encounter (and, not rarely, contend with) the demands and trials of a politically active life. She has had a keen eye for the exceedingly precarious moral situation of her own kind - the privileged white intelligentsia that abhors apartheid, detests the exploitation of 25 million unfranchised, economically vulnerable citizens at the hands of five million people who, so far, have had a powerful modern army at their disposal, not to mention the wealth of a vigorous, advanced capitalist society.

To oppose the assumptions and everyday reality of a particular world, yet be among the men and women
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For Aila, his wife, for Baby, their daughter and first child, for Will, named after Shakespeare (how do some of us jaded folk, schooled for years, ever recapture the innocence and heartfelt sincerity of such a parental decision?), Sonny, the low-paid, earnest, hard-working civil servant and educator, once had an almost infinite supply of concern and affection. He attended them in every way - a sturdy householder, no matter the constant, terrible shadow of apartheid. But gradually Sonny got connected to his people's political struggle, an exceedingly dangerous one in a country whose ruling class for decades ruthlessly punished any and all activist dissent: a democracy for a white minority, a harsh totalitarian regime for a black majority. Gradually, too, he found less and less time for his family. He shows up now and then, but hurriedly leaves. To call upon a well-known biblical polarity, he is trying to gain a whole new world for others, yet his own family's world, maybe his soul, too, are in grave jeopardy.

Sonny's political ascent is a major topic for the novel's one narrator (who is obviously horrified by apartheid and anxious to see it ended, and is struggling to find the self-respect that goes with a principled observer's persistent dissent). It is this narrator who gives us a rather conventional, well-told account of a family's ups and downs, its transition from social and emotional ordinariness to a

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