July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on July’s People can help.

July’s People: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Maureen reflects on July’s personality. Back home, she had humored his moods, too afraid to offend him and lose the comforts his service provided them. Maureen wonders if July loves his town woman, Ellen. She also ruminates on how everything comes at a cost, “even death.” One of Bam’s business partners bought his death aboard a private plane; July’s mother, in contrast, could only afford to “crawl” to her death.
Maureen insinuates that yesterday’s terse encounter with July is just the latest episode in which she’s had to be at the mercy of his volatile mood swings. The idea that she has always been afraid to offend July seems unlikely: as a white person of financial means, and as July’s employer, Maureen would have had the upper hand in their relationship. Her attempt to frame herself as a victim of July’s erratic moods seems to be a defensive response to July taking offense to her and Bam’s concerns the night before. She’s uncomfortable with him conversing with them as an equal rather than a servant.   
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes
Maureen still has the bakkie keys from when she retrieved the rubber mat last night. She waits for July to emerge from his hut to give them back to him, feeling that it would be inappropriate for her, as a white woman, to enter his hut alone. She hadn’t entered his living quarters in their home in Johannesburg, either. Maureen sits down, uncomfortable. She’s menstruating for the first time since arriving in July’s village two weeks ago. She hadn’t thought to pack sanitary supplies and has to use rags that she washes in the river, just like the other village women. 
Maureen’s apprehension about not committing a faux pas by entering July’s hut reflects her inner turmoil over how to navigate the constraints of their relationship outside of an employer-employee context. Having to wash rags in the river with the other women is another example of navigating a cultural difference that makes adjusting to life in July’s village a challenge.
Themes
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Eventually, July emerges from his hut. Maureen stands up and hands him the keys. July says nothing at first. Bam has gone hunting warthogs with some others, and July appears to sense that he can’t avoid Maureen’s scrutiny now that it’s just the two of them. He confronts her about disapproving of him holding the bakkie keys. Maureen tries to laugh off the uncomfortable moment, but July continues. For 15 years, he reminds Maureen, he has worked for her family. In town, he was her “boy,” and she trusted him to manage the entire household. Maureen can see that July is using the word “boy” as a weapon against her, but she can’t remember ever calling him this. Maureen’s father might have infantilized the Black men who worked in his mine, but Maureen is different from him.
Bam and Maureen both felt that it was a breach of trust for July to take the Bakkie without asking them. However, while Bam seems to dismiss the incident as an out-of-character lapse of judgment on July’s part, Maureen is more resolute in her paranoia about July’s wavering loyalty to her family and trustworthiness. Maureen’s understanding of the power dynamics that influenced her and July’s relationship is superficial. She’s offended that July would imply that she or Bam would ever infantilize him by calling him “boy,” yet she fails to recognize the myriad of other, more subtle ways she and Bam might have offended or talked down to July over the years.
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
July continues to air his grievances against Maureen, claiming that she has never trusted him and never took her eyes off of him when they lived in town. While the family would come back from vacations  with nice gifts for July, Maureen would still inspect the house thoroughly upon their return to make sure nothing was missing or out of place. July also accuses Maureen of being afraid he wasn’t working hard enough, citing a time she asked him to dust all the books while they were away. Maureen counters that July should have said something if he felt Maureen was mistreating him.  July accuses Bam, whom he calls “the master,” of “think[ing] for” him. This infuriates Maureen, who says that Bam has never been July’s “master,” nor has the family “ever thought of [him] as anything but a grown man.”
July’s grievances against Maureen confirm that she has indeed infantilized and insulted him over the years, even if she hasn’t done so in such an explicit manner as calling him “boy.” When July refers to Bam as his “master,” he infuriates Maureen. Once more, Maureen demonstrates a superficial understanding of power dynamics. The term “master” triggers her because it explicitly suggests that a master-slave/superior-subordinate dynamic exists between July and his employers. Maureen seems to believe that if her and Bam’s relationship with July is superficially just and equitable, there is no danger of her offending or demeaning him in other, more nuanced ways. Because her family has never “thought of [him] as anything but a grown man,” she assumes that July, in turn, has never been made to feel “as anything but a grown man.” July’s complaints in this scene, however, paint a different picture and suggest that Maureen has slighted him in more ways than she knows. 
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes
Get the entire July’s People LitChart as a printable PDF.
July’s People PDF
Anyway, Maureen adds, this is all in the past, since July doesn’t work for them anymore. Maureen’s comments surprise July, who asks whether she intends to pay him for this month. Maureen is incredulous. She tries to back up and reason with him, apologizing for anything she has said or done over the years that may have offended him. However, Maureen contends, their relationship is different now. July isn’t taking their keys as a servant—he’s taking their keys as a friend. And friends are supposed to ask permission before they borrow things. July offers Maureen the keys but continues to lecture Maureen about how he has worked hard for years, all to support his wife and children.
Maureen and July continue to butt heads. This suggests that neither has a clear idea of how to navigate the power dynamics of their new relationship and determine what they are to each other. July is no longer their servant, of course, but isn’t he still working for them by providing them food, shelter, and protection? On the other hand, they’ve been in each other’s lives for nearly two decades, so is it possible that he’s helping them as a favor rather than a service?    
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Maureen fights back. If July cares so much about his wife and children, she asks, then how does Ellen fit into the picture? Is she taken care of now? And does July’s wife know about her? July is silent, and Maureen knows she has won the argument—for now. July pockets the keys and turns to leave, barking orders to various villagers as he walks away.
It's unclear why Maureen brings Ellen into the argument, as she’s never appeared to have any moral qualms about July having an extramarital affair before now. More likely, Maureen mentions Ellen to antagonize July and gain the upper hand in their argument. By bringing July’s infidelity into the argument, Maureen discredits July’s claim about being a responsible, principled servant, husband, and father. 
Themes
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Quotes