July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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July’s People: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Maureen gathers vegetables with the other women in the field. The afternoon sun beats down on them. Maureen rolls up her jeans, revealing pale calves marked with bruises, hair, and varicose veins. Martha laughs openly at Maureen’s legs, and Maureen laughs back at July’s wife’s thick legs.
Martha’s ridicule is aimed at Maureen’s appearance, specifically the whiteness of her legs. This is another example of how being in July’s village upends the racial hierarchy. Under apartheid, Maureen’s whiteness was an asset. Here, her pale legs are the target of ridicule.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Maureen and Bam try to listen to the news later that day, but they still can’t get a signal. Maureen leaves the hut and spots July and Daniel fixing the bakkie. July emerges from beneath the vehicle and offers a vague explanation of what’s wrong with it. He and Maureen talk back and forth impersonally, as though following a script. When the subject of the war comes up, July mentions his hope that things “will come back all right.” Maureen thinks she’s misheard him and asks him to clarify—does he really want things to go back to how they were before? July motions for Daniel to leave so he can speak with Maureen alone.
July’s hope that everything “will come back all right” reflects his desire for the government to subdue the Black freedom fighters and reinstate apartheid. This shocks Maureen, since it implies that July is actively siding against an outcome that would be in his best interest. Her failure to understand what would compel July to side against his people reflects the degree to which her privilege blinds her to the complexities of the disadvantaged communities for whom she wants to be an advocate.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Quotes
After Daniel leaves, July asks Maureen if her family is hungry—he saw her gathering vegetables with the other women earlier and assumed her family didn’t have enough to eat. Maureen insists that she only gathered vegetables because she wanted to pass the time, but July won’t back down. He tells her it’s not her place to work with them, insisting that it’s “no good” without elaborating further. Maureen asks July if he’s “afraid [Maureen is] going to tell [Martha] something.” July doesn’t offer much of a response, but he’s visibly angry. For the first time in her life, Maureen feels afraid of a man.
Maureen brought up Ellen during her confrontation with July the other day and witnessed firsthand how much it upset July. Maureen’s cryptic accusation that July is worried that Maureen will “tell [Martha] something” seems to refer to Ellen. Again, it’s unclear why Maureen is so fixated on Ellen. One plausible interpretation is that Maureen is trying to show July that she has leverage against him (knowledge of July’s affair, which she can disclose to Martha) and is therefore not as indebted to him as he would like to think. 
Themes
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes
Maureen walks away and July resumes working on the bakkie. Even from far away, Maureen can tell that July is using the improper tools and has no idea what he’s doing. She approaches him and insists that he let Bam complete the job. July is silent. Something is still bothering him. After a pause, he tells Maureen that the chief has asked about the white people that July is keeping in the village. He’s agreed to let them stay, but they have to meet with him in person and ask permission first. Maureen, equal parts concerned and annoyed, points out that July made it sound like he has the final say about what goes on in the village when he invited them to stay here. July ignores this and tells Maureen that he will bring the entire Smales family to see the chief tomorrow.
Insisting that July let Bam repair the bakkie is another attempt on Maureen’s part to antagonize and belittle July, putting him in his place after he made her feel uncomfortable and powerless. Ultimately, however, July wins the power play by telling Maureen about the chief’s request to meet the Smales family, effectively letting Maureen know that her future at the village is in jeopardy. Finally, that the Smales family needs the chief, a Black man, to authorize their continued presence in the village presents another example of how life in July’s village subverts the racial hierarchy as it existed under apartheid.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
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Maureen turns to leave but walks back and faces July. In a quiet voice, she tells him that he doesn’t need to worry: “He won’t steal it from you.” 
Maureen simultaneously acknowledges that July has been acting as though he owns the bakkie and criticizes his entitlement. She’s telling him that it’s okay to let Bam take over the mechanical repair job, since Bam is a principled man (unlike July) who wouldn’t dream of taking something that belongs to someone else. She says this purely out of spite. However, her observation is ironic, since Maureen and Bam are the descendants of European settlers who, indirectly, have stolen (land) from July and his people. 
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon