July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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July’s People: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
July’s wife asks him why he had to bring the white people to their home. In preparation for the Smales’ arrival, July’s wife gave up the second bed and borrowed a Primus for them. July’s mother gave up her own hut. July tries to reason with his wife, insisting that they have nowhere else to go. July’s wife rebuts this, though. She knows how white people live from the stories July has told her—that they have different rooms for sleeping, sitting, eating, and reading. With so many different spaces to choose from, how could they have nowhere to go? July describes the burning houses and murdered white people in town, but his wife and mother remain unsympathetic. His wife claims that white people can—and do—use their money to go anywhere they please. July promises her that what’s happening in Johannesburg is happening everywhere. 
As the novel switches to July’s family’s point of view, July’s mother and wife disagree with his decision to house a white family in their village, yet they go along with it, nonetheless. This suggests the extent to which their decisions are influenced by wealth and power. They’ve needed the money July sends home from working for the Smales in Johannesburg and are therefore powerless to object to July’s decision to put everybody’s life at risk by housing them in the village. Their skepticism is understandable, particularly July’s wife’s sentiment that white people should be able to use their money to buy their way out of any situation, because, historically, this has been the case. The current political situation is unprecedented. 
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
July continues, recounting how, at the airport the other day, Black forces shot down a plane of white people trying to flee. In Mozambique, Black people have a special type of bomb or gun powerful enough to strike down a plane. In short, July concludes, there’s nothing that white people can do to harm them anymore. July’s mother cautions him that he “will never come to the end of the things [white people] can do.”
July’s mother’s warning that he “will never come to the end of things [white people] can do” illustrates the extent to which white colonizers have impacted the social and political atmosphere of South Africa. July’s mother takes for granted white people’s ability to oppress and control.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Quotes
One of the young girls in the hut asks July if it’s really true that he had his own room for bathing when he worked in town. July assures her that he did. The girls laugh as July describes the white china fixtures in his bathing room. July’s mother realizes the chicken that July killed has eggs in its belly and yells at him for killing the wrong one.
The questions July’s relatives ask about the Smales are all impersonal and focused on their material wealth—how big their house is, what kind of fixtures it contains. It seems that all July has thought to mention of his employers is that they are wealthy—he hasn’t spoken of them in personal, affectionate terms or disclosed anything of their personalities. We get the sense that the Smales and July aren’t as close as Maureen’s earlier gratitude toward July would imply. 
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
July’s wife criticizes the white people’s appearances. They look disheveled and dirty—not at all as she had expected. July says they looked different at home. Here, they have nothing—just like July and his family. July’s wife responds only to lament the monthly payments they’ll no longer receive now that July is no longer employed. July ruminates on the lost payments “from his other life,” which provided for his family and put his wife through school.
The Smales’ disheveled appearances reaffirm the radical degree to which their lives have changed since Black forces overthrew the government. They no longer enjoy a privileged position at the top of the racial hierarchy, and their dirty, uncomfortable appearance reflects this as well. If July stops receiving payments from the Smales, it’s possible he will have less incentive to continue to house them in his village. Whether or not July remains loyal to the Smales without the promise of payment will say something about the nature of their relationship: if it’s completely shaped by power dynamics and money and therefore transactional, or if they are friends outside of the power dynamics. 
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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