July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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Bam Smales Character Analysis

Bam Smales is Maureen Smales’s husband and one of the book’s central protagonists. He is an affluent, white South African architect. Bam prides himself on his progressive, anti-apartheid views and strives to treat his family’s Black house servant, July, as an equal. These views are put to the test, however when the Smaleses flee their suburban home in war-torn Johannesburg for the safety of July’s rural village. In July’s village, the Smales no longer possess the racial and social privilege they benefited from under apartheid, and they’re suddenly forced to rely on July for food, shelter, and protection. As such, the new situation radically transforms the power dynamic between July and the Smaleses. However, while Maureen immediately resents having to answer to July, Bam trust in July is unwavering—at least, at first. Like Maureen, Bam’s latent racism becomes increasingly apparent the longer he resides in July’s village. While Bam appears outwardly supportive of Black liberation, he constantly tunes in to the radio for news of an end to fighting and a return to the white-controlled status quo. He also underestimates the Black villagers, as evidenced by his completely illogical assumption that nobody in the village is aware of the shotgun he keeps hidden in the thatched roof of his family’s hut. Additionally, Bam and Maureen both resent July’s insistence on keeping the keys to the bakkie, the Smaleses’ pickup truck. They panic when he and a friend drive the vehicle into town without asking the couple for permission. Bam grows increasingly distant from Maureen as they both struggle to accept the reality that their desire to return to their old life under apartheid contradicts their outward espousal of liberalism and racial equality.

Bam Smales Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below are all either spoken by Bam Smales or refer to Bam Smales. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
).
Chapter 2 Quotes

He would no sooner shoot a buck than a man; and he did not keep any revolver under his pillow to defend his wife, his children or his property in their suburban house.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: Bam’s Shotgun
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

The decently-paid and contented male servant, living in their yard since they had married, clothed by them in two sets of uniforms, khaki pants for rough housework, white drill for waiting at table, given Wednesdays and alternate Sundays free, allowed to have his friends visit him and his town woman sleep with him in his room—he turned out to be the chosen one in whose hands their lives were to be held[.]

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The seats from the vehicle no longer belonged to it; they had become the furniture of the hut. Outside in an afternoon cooled by a rippled covering of grey luminous clouds, she sat on the ground as others did. Over the valley beyond the kraal of euphorbia and dead thorn where the goats were kept: she knew the vehicle was there. A ship that had docked in a far country. Anchored in the khakiweed, it would rust and be stripped to hulk, unless it made the journey back, soon.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

She was already not what she was. No fiction could compete with what she was finding she did not know, could not have imagined or discovered through imagination. They had nothing.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

There was nowhere to run to. Nothing to get away in. All he could say to Maureen was that it was July. July.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

There was the moment to ask him for the keys. But it was let pass.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Submission to the elements was something forgotten, back there.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The bakkie? You know I’m tell them. I get it from you in town. The bakkie it’s mine. Well, what can they say?—

Only a colourless texturing like combings from raw wool across the top of his head from ear to ear remained to Bam— he had begun to go bald in his twenties. The high dome reddened under the transparent nap. His eyes were blue as Gina’s shining out of dirt. —Is it yours, July?—

All three laughed in agitation.

Related Characters: Bam Smales (speaker), July (speaker), Maureen Smales, Gina
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Abstractions hardened into the concrete: even death is a purchase. One of Bam’s senior partners could afford his at the cost of a private plane—in which he crashed. July’s old mother (was she not perhaps his grandmother?) would crawl, as Maureen was watching her now, coming home with wood, and grass for her brooms on her head, bent lower and lower towards the earth until finally she sank to it—the only death she could afford.

Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

The master. Bam’s not your master. Why do you pretend? Nobody’s ever thought of you as anything but a grown man. My god, I can’t believe you can talk about me like that… Bam’s had damn all to do with you, in fifteen years. That’s it. You played around with things together in the tool shed. You worked for me every day. I got on your nerves. So what. You got on mine. That’s how people are.— She flowered into temper. —But we’re not talking about that. That’s got nothing to do with now. That’s over—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

He understood, for the first time, that he was a killer. A butcher like any other in rubber boots among the slush of guts, urine and blood at the abattoir, although July and his kin would do the skinning and quartering. The acceptance was a kind of relief he didn’t want to communicate or discuss.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July, Daniel
Related Symbols: Bam’s Shotgun
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

It was as if she grimaced at him, ugly; and yet she was his ‘poor thing’, dishevelled by living like this, obliged to turn her hand to all sorts of unpleasant things. —Why didn’t you get one of them to do it?—

Related Characters: Bam Smales (speaker), Maureen Smales
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

The chief wanted them to move on; the three children running in and out the hut with their childish sensationalism, their plaints, their brief ecstasies, his wife knocking a nail into her sandal with a stone, and he, shaving outside where there was light. Would tell them to go. What business of the chief’s to tell them where? He had not asked them to come here. A wide arc of the hand: plenty place to go. And this was not their custom, but the civilized one; when a white farmer sold up, or died, the next owner would simply say to the black labourers living and working on the land, born there: go.

Related Characters: Bam Smales, The Chief, July, Daniel
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

The chief had the sharp, impatient, sceptical voice of a man quicker than the people he keeps around him, but knew no white man’s language. Why should he? It was not for him to work as a servant or go down the mines.

Related Characters: Bam Smales, The Chief, Daniel, July, Maureen Smales
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

It was she who smiled at July, said what had to be said. —We owe him everything.—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), July, Bam Smales, The Chief
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

—What do the blacks think? What will the freedom fighters think? Did he join the people from Soweto? He took his whites and ran. You make me laugh. You talk as if we weren’t hiding, we weren’t scared to go farther than the river?—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), Bam Smales, The Chief, July
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

She saw that he wouldn’t answer the child; but he was back there: if he couldn’t pick up the phone and call the police whom he and she had despised for their brutality and thuggery in the life lived back there, he did not know what else to do.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, Victor
Related Symbols: Bam’s Shotgun
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire July’s People LitChart as a printable PDF.
July’s People PDF

Bam Smales Character Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the character Bam Smales appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
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...taking family trips to Kruger Park while her father, a shift boss, was on leave. Bam’s family, too, had built rondavels inspired by “the huts of the blacks.” The rondavels had... (full context)
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...by the doorway. She hears somebody speaking in an unfamiliar language. Maureen can sense that Bam has awoken beside her. She asks him where the bakkie is. Bam tells her that... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...South Africans, a bakkie is typically a second car reserved for use in sporting activities. Bam Smales bought the bakkie for himself on his 40th birthday to use on trap-shooting trips,... (full context)
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Bam had bought the bakkie for pleasure. Although Maureen was displeased when she saw him arrive... (full context)
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A bank accountant for whom Bam had designed a house tipped Bam off to the fact that if unrest in the... (full context)
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But then, everything changed. The yellow bakkie that Bam had bought for pleasure became their only vehicle. They used it to drive away from... (full context)
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...to bathe the children. Maureen washes the children first, then herself in the dirty water. Bam risks catching bilharzia and bathes in the river. Afterward, July returns with porridge and fruit.... (full context)
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...of this—as a cover story, he’d told everybody that the Smales gifted him the car. Bam laughed, wondering who would believe this lie. July assured them that everybody knows what’s currently... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Bam helps July repair the villagers’ run-down farming equipment. He talks eagerly about using cement to... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Bam spends his days working or resting. The third category of activity, “leisure,” is a “suburban... (full context)
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Lately, the many jobs Bam has had to do and the constant presence of the children have kept Bam and... (full context)
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Leaving their home has strained Bam and Maureen’s relationship. Most of their conversations are about decisions they don’t want to make... (full context)
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The radio station that Bam and Maureen turn to for news had been off the air for 24 hours, but... (full context)
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The last thing Bam sees before falling asleep is her frowning face before him. Suddenly, Bam awakens to the... (full context)
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Bam leaves the hut to try to find out where July is but only receives vague,... (full context)
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...children. Nyiko retrieves the baby from Gina. As a  peace-offering, Maureen stabs a sausage with Bam’s penknife and offers it to the child. The child holds her palms together as though... (full context)
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After dinner, the children antagonize one another in the hut. Maureen and Bam sit in silence and agonize over July’s absence. Bam closes his eyes and sees the... (full context)
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Maureen sits with her back to Bam and adjusts the radio, unable to get a signal. Bam snaps at her about wasting... (full context)
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...was limited to giving orders to and receiving orders from Black people. When Maureen married Bam, “her liberal young husband,” she’d told him this story with shame. Now, she feels ashamed... (full context)
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Bam accuses Maureen argue some more. Finally, Bam puts his hands up in exasperation. “I know... (full context)
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...Water slowly trickles down into the hut. The humidity brings swarms of bugs. Maureen and Bam carry the children to the bed to keep them off the wet floor (full context)
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Bam drifts in and out of sleep. Maureen steadies herself against the wet wall of the... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...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... (full context)
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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.”... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Bam watches the warthogs walk through the grasses. Earlier in the day, one of July’s friends,... (full context)
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When Bam returns to the village with his kill, Maureen intercepts him. She reminds him to give... (full context)
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Later that night, surrounded by their sleeping children, Maureen and Bam make love for the first time since their arrival in July’s village. Until now, lack... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Later, Bam goes to fish in the river. He and his family won’t eat barbel, but he... (full context)
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Bam and Maureen turn on the radio, but the reception is too poor to hear anything.... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Maureen and Bam try to listen to the news later that day, but they still can’t get a... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Maureen returns to the hut and tells Bam about July’s news regarding the chief. She also mentions her suspicion about July being afraid... (full context)
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...July, and Daniel leave the village to meet with the chief. Maureen chatters affectionately with Bam and the children, as though the family is taking a fun daytrip. Meanwhile, Bam mentally... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...Smales wait outside a brick, church-like building while July runs ahead to announce their arrival. Bam asks Daniel where they are. Daniel tells him they’ve arrived at the hubeyni, a place... (full context)
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The party returns to the bakkie to travel to the chief’s house. Bam tries to ask July for information about the man they just met, and July laughs,... (full context)
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...distance to eavesdrop. The chief seems smart and discerning but doesn’t speak the Smales’ language. Bam realizes that the chief has no need for the “white man’s language” because he “doesn’t... (full context)
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...why the police don’t just arrest people the way they did in 1976 or 1980. Bam explains that the Black people in law enforcement have joined the fighting and refuse to... (full context)
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...to kill you.” Maureen laughs involuntarily and then immediately blushes deeply, mortified by her reaction. Bam, who takes the chief’s comment as gloating, says nothing. July won’t look at him. In... (full context)
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The chief’s words shock Bam. He argues that the chief can’t possibly wish to shoot his own people: “You wouldn’t... (full context)
Chapter 16
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July drops off Bam and Maureen in front of their hut. Gina, Victor, and Royce remain in the bakkie... (full context)
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Bam paces around the hut and mentions a report from a few years ago, about the... (full context)
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Maureen pauses before asking Bam about the chief’s interest in the gun. Bam squats beside her and smiles, finally telling... (full context)
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Bam changes the subject to complain about July’s earlier remark about “let[ting]” Bam drive. “A treat... (full context)
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...When he brought the Smales to his village, he effectively “took his whites and ran.” Bam disagrees. He believes that July is hiding them out of his genuine love for the... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...discover that their boxes of cartridges are missing, too. Maureen pretends not to notice that Bam’s hands are shaking. The family searches every corner of the hut, but the gun is... (full context)
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...familiar “cold cat-smell” of Maureen’s sweat. July angrily tells Maureen the gun is her and Bam’s problem—not his. Maureen suspects that Daniel took the gun to sell to the chief. She... (full context)
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Maureen returns to the hut. Bam and the children are eating mealie-meal. Maureen ignores them and locates the water bottle, which... (full context)