July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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July’s People: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Maureen wakes up to the sound of her children coughing in their sleep. Bam pours boiling water onto tea-leaves and listens to the radio, which is reporting news of missiles falling on the city last night. Maureen can sense that Bam wants her to ask what they should do if white control were restored—if they should return to Johannesburg “in the name of ideals they didn’t share in a destroyed white society they didn’t believe in.” But Maureen remains silent. When she gets out of bed, Bam gives her half-naked body an incredulous look. As Maureen hastily dresses, they hear July’s voice at the doorway.
The Smales weigh their options: they can stay here in July’s village and uphold their progressive values at the cost of personal comfort and certainty, or they can return to the comforts of home and defend their own life “in the name of ideals they didn’t share,” thereby abandoning their values. Neither option satisfies them. 
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
The couple tells July to come in. He enters, carrying firewood. Bam cautiously asks July where he took the bakkie yesterday. Maureen adds that they were “worried.” July mentions something about going “to the shops.” His flippant tone unsettles Bam and Maureen: “the shops” are 40 kilometers away, not to mention the fact that there’s a police post there. July explains that his friend, a good driver, drove them. He also mentions that he went to the shops to retrieve food and supplies for the Smales. Maureen pays July for the provisions and asks if there was any fighting in town. July says he heard about trouble at the mine. Before leaving, he orders the couple to come when he sends for them once the rain clears. He grins as he tosses them some batteries for their radio.
Maureen’s attempt to frame the anger she feels toward July for breaking their trust and taking the bakkie as them being “worried” is disingenuous. They’re not worried about July’s safety. In reality, they’re worried for themselves. More than this, even, they’re upset that he’s done something of his own accord without first gaining their approval. When July describes the provisions he picked up in town, he’s implicitly reminding the Smales that they are in no position to condemn him, since he’s held up his end of the bargain by taking care of them. The lightheartedness with which July tosses the Smales batteries for the radio can be interpreted a number of ways. On the one hand, he can simply be happy to be doing the Smales a favor by giving them something they need. On the other hand, his glib attitude does suggest that he’s making a point about how he controls which supplies the Smales can and cannot access. He’s relishing his newfound freedom and putting the Smales in their place. 
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
Quotes
July leaves. Maureen begins to cook porridge for breakfast. As Maureen cooks, she contemplates July’s concerningly careless behavior. What would happen if somebody in town noticed him driving the yellow bakkie and became suspicious about where he got it? At the same time, Maureen reminds herself, “he did bring things.”
Maureen remains conflicted about the bakkie debacle. She fixates on the perceived danger of July being seen in the bakkie—a vehicle that anybody would guess belongs to a white person—in an attempt to reframe her anger about the ordeal as concern rather than bitterness toward July for overstepping a boundary. She’s trying to put herself in the right so she can avoid acknowledging how uncomfortable she is with July being beyond her ability to control.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon