July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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July’s People: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Smales watch July’s friend teaching him to drive the bakkie and realize that they’ve missed their opportunity to reclaim their keys. “He’s always been so correct,” observes Bam, puzzled about what has compelled July to take the bakkie and overstep a critical boundary. The couple knows that they owe July their lives for taking them in, but they can’t help but feel betrayed and suspicious of his recent actions.  Maureen fears that July will only help them as long as their money lasts. 
Watching July learn to drive shows Bam and Maureen that July has realized that he can act of his own accord now that he’s no longer working under the Smales’ roof.  This is what they mean when they claim that they’ve missed the opportunity to regain possession of the keys: now that July is aware of the altered power dynamics in their relationship, he has no reason to do things just because they tell him to do them. Bam’s observation about July being “so correct” gets to the heart of why the Smales are having such a hard time getting along with July in his village: they’re still judging him as a servant rather than an equal. They believe it’s out of line for him to do things without their consent, and they see his empowerment as a threat to their well-being and a symptom that his loyalty to them has waned.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes
July ends his driving lesson and approaches the Smales, gloating about his progress. Bam carefully remarks that July never expressed interest in learning to drive when he was working for them. He also warns July that it could be very bad for them all if authorities catch him driving without a license. July laughs. Who would catch him? The Black soldiers have run the white policemen out of town. Plus, he has a cover story: the Smales gave him the bakkie. Maureen and Bam start to suspect that July might really believe the bakkie is his. 
The Smales’ paranoia about July’s shifting loyalties causes them to read into his words and actions and see malice where there is none. Suddenly, July’s confidence in his ability to protect the Smales becomes big-headedness. July’s attempts to reassure the Smales, too, come off as gloating about society’s subverted power dynamics, where the white policemen now must answer to the Black soldiers. The Smales see July’s use of the bakkie as an extension of this revised racial hierarchy. They think he feels entitled to what is not rightfully his.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes
Maureen changes the subject. She mentions that Martha gave her some medicine for the children’s coughs. This information agitates July, who insists that the medicine isn’t good “for white people.” Royce’s cough has become increasingly severe, and Maureen mentions wanting to place a rubber floormat from the bakkie underneath his bed to keep the dampness at bay. Bam interjects, cautiously mentioning that they haven’t been able to get the rubber mat out of the bakkie because July has the keys. July becomes defensive and reminds the couple that he has used their keys to bring them the things they need. He promises to get medicine for Royce tomorrow.  
July clarifies two things about the nature of his relationship with the Smales family: he’s not enthusiastic about Maureen inserting herself into his culture, which isn’t “for white people,” and he’s no longer obligated to answer to Bam and Maureen if he doesn’t want to. July seems to sense the couple’s wariness about him operating the bakkie and purposefully avoids addressing it directly. When July reminds the couple about the supplies he picked up in town, it’s his way of putting them in their place.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Victor and some other boys come running toward Maureen and Bam. With alarm in his voice, Victor announces that people have discovered the water running from the tap Bam set up the other day. “It’s ours!” exclaims Victor. Bam tells Victor that he installed the tank for everybody to use. Maureen tells him that nobody “owns the rain.” July playfully remarks to Victor how “very, very clever” his father was to install the tank.
This scene with Victor parallels the interaction that just occurred between Bam, Maureen, and July. Victor, like his parents before him, tries to claim ownership of the tap Bam installed the other day. His parents—newly humbled by July—remind him that the water tap is for everybody, and that nobody “owns the rain.” Bam and Maureen instruct Victor to be less entitled, a lesson they hadn’t fully internalized prior to their tense confrontation with July. July’s improved mood when he praises Victor’s “very, very clever” father signals to Bam and Maureen that everything is okay again, now that they all understand one another. In short, July has implicitly reminded Maureen and Bam that while he will continue to protect them because it’s the right thing to do, he will no longer answer to them as he had when he was their servant. 
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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