Thesis: Gender and Race in Gordimer

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[. . .] Thebedi has kept the child out of sight from the community because it is obvious that the father of the child is a white man, in this case Paulus. Thebedi hides the child not only for its well-being, but also to preserve Paulus' reputation as it would not be accepted by the community and/or society that she and Paulus had a child together, especially with laws against miscegenation in place. Paulus' reaction and following actions demonstrate how desperate he is to preserve his reputation and the reputation of his family as he proceeds to kill the child in the dead of night. Paulus would have gotten away with the murder, as Njabulo, Thebedi's extremely understanding and accepting husband, prepared to give the child a proper burial, however, [As Njabulo] was going to make a cross but before it was finished the police came and dug up the grave and took away the dead baby: someone -- one of the other labourers? their women? -- had reported that the baby was almost white, that, strong and healthy, it had died suddenly after a visit by the farmer's son.

At the trial during which Paulus is accused of murdering the child, Gordimer further exemplifies how society viewed Thebedi. Not only does the court doubt much of what she says, but it also makes an attack on her character in an attempt to destroy her credibility. The defense argues, "there had been a love relationship between the accused and that girl, or that intercourse had taken place, but submitted there was no proof that the child was the accused's" and also that there "was the suggestion in the mind of the Court that [Thebedi] might be an accomplice in the crime; but, again, insufficient proof." On the other hand, although there was sufficient evidence against Paulus, the Court finds that there was a "strong suspicion against him but not enough proof that he had committed the crime" and he is subsequently found innocent on all the charges.

Likewise, Smith shows how race and ethnicity shape perceptions, in this case, how the narrator's self-image is shaped by superior perceptions of whites in society. In the poem, Smith assumes the role of the narrator and seems to infuse her personal experiences into what the narrator encounters. Smith compares becoming self-aware and comfortable with her identity to "being 9 years old and/feeling like you're not finished, like your/edges are wild, like there's something,/everything, wrong." She then begins to point to the cause of this feeling, the pressure to be more white and thus more accepted by society. In order to attempt to fulfill this mold, the narrator finds herself trying to change what she looks like by "dropping food coloring/in [her] eyes to make them blue and suffering/their burn in silence. [And] popping a bleached/white mop head over the kinks of your hair and primping in from of mirrors that deny your/reflection." However, despite these attempts, there is nothing that she can do to change who she is and she must learn to embrace "jumping/double dutch until your legs pop, it's sweat/and Vaseline and bullets, it's growing tall and/wearing a lot of white," in other words, embrace what makes her unique and embrace what white girls and women cannot and will not be able to do. Furthermore, she also accepts that she must learn to "say fuck with/grace but learning to fuck without it," which might not be commonly be seen among the white women that she sees in society. Reluctantly, the narrator has learned to accept "life according to Motown" and see that she, just like Motown, is unique and desirable simply because she is who she is and not because she is what others want her to be.

Both Gordimer and Smith are able to highlight the difficulties that young, black women must endure and the obstacles that they have to overcome in order to carry on with their lives. Gordimer's short story allows her to explore in more detail how society views white people as compared to blacks, while Smith's poetic structure forces her to infuse her poem with a sort of hip-hop style that is a large part of African-American culture. Despite these differences and inherent limitations, each author successfully demonstrates how society shapes perceptions of others and perceptions of self. [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Thesis:

APA Format

Gender and Race in Gordimer.  (2012, July 2).  Retrieved May 21, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Gender and Race in Gordimer."  2 July 2012.  Web.  21 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Gender and Race in Gordimer."  July 2, 2012.  Accessed May 21, 2019.