July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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July Character Analysis

July is a Black man who has worked as a house servant for the Smales family, who are affluent, white South Africans, for 15 years. When a Black uprising overthrows apartheid rule in South Africa and puts the country’s minority white population in danger, the Smaleses accept July’s offer to shelter them in his rural village. While Maureen and Bam Smales are grateful to July for saving their lives, the move drastically alters their relationship with him. Suddenly, they must rely on their former servant for food, shelter, and protection. In apartheid-era Johannesburg, in contrast, July was at the mercy of the Smaleses. While Maureen and Bam always made a point to treat July with more respect than most wealthy, white South Africans treated their Black staff, July’s existence as a Black man was more oppressive and stifling than they could appreciate. The Smales might believe that they have a good relationship with July, but the racial and social superiority that apartheid afforded them has always prevented them from interacting with him as equals. When the Black uprising ends apartheid and renders white people powerless, the power dynamics in July’s relationship with his employers shift, and the Smaleses begin to question July’s loyalty and honesty. One early source of conflict is July’s decision to keep the keys to the Smaleses’ bakkie. July’s control of their vehicle effectively severs the Smaleses’ last remaining connection to their old life and reaffirms how beholden they are to him. July has a wife, Martha, to whom he sends letters and a portion of his salary. The couple isn’t very close, however, since July only returns to the village once every two years. Martha and July’s mother disapprove of his decision to house the Smaleses. Both women criticize July’s decision to continue to serve the Smaleses, reminding him of the consequences he could face if people outside of his village discover that he is helping a white family. July, too, struggles to reconcile his allegiance to the Smaleses with his loyalty to his people. Nevertheless, July continues to protect and provide for the Smaleses, even as they grow increasingly resentful of the new power that he holds over them.

July Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below are all either spoken by July or refer to July. 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 4 Quotes

Her son, who had seen the white woman and the three children cowered on the floor of their vehicle, led the white face behind the wheel in his footsteps, his way the only one in a wilderness, was suddenly aware of something he had not known. —They can’t do anything. Nothing to us any more.—

Related Characters: July (speaker), Maureen Smales, Martha, July’s Mother
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 21
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 7 Quotes

—Here, I bring for you— He tossed up in his palm and presented to her two small radio batteries.
—Oh how marvellous. How clever to remember.— He had heard her say it all when friends brought her flowers or chocolates.
He grinned and swayed a little, as they did. —Now you listen nice again.— It was the small flourish of his exit.

Related Characters: July (speaker), Maureen Smales (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bakkie , The Radio
Page Number: 55
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:

He put the keys in his pocket and walked away. His head moved from side to side like a foreman’s inspecting his workshop or a farmer’s noting work to be done on the lands. He yelled out an instruction to a woman, here, questioned a man mending a bicycle tyre, there, hallooed across the valley to the young man approaching who was his driving instructor, and who was almost always with him, now, in a city youth’s jeans, silent as a bodyguard, with a string of beads resting girlishly round the base of his slender neck.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, July, Daniel
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 73
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 11 Quotes

—They will bring trouble. I don’t mind those people—what do they matter to me? But white people bring trouble.—

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), July, July’s Mother
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

—But you don’t mean the way it was, you don’t mean that. Do you? You don’t mean that.—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), July
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

How was she to have known, until she came here, that the special consideration she had shown for his dignity as a man, while he was by definition a servant, would become his humiliation itself, the one thing there was to say between them that had any meaning.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, July
Page Number: 98
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 understood although she knew no word. Understood everything: what he had had to be, how she had covered up to herself for him, in order for him to be her idea of him. But for himself—to be intelligent, honest, dignified for her was nothing; his measure as a man was taken elsewhere and by others. She was not his mother, his wife, his sister, his friend, his people.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, July
Related Symbols: Bam’s Shotgun
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire July’s People LitChart as a printable PDF.
July’s People PDF

July Character Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the character July appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
July appears in the doorway, a tea tray in his arms. The doorway isn’t so much... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...from gunned-down shopping malls and burning houses. Nora, their cook and nanny, ran away. And July, the male servant they’d employed for years, and to whom they’d given a long list... (full context)
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Back in the present, July brings in a zinc bath to bathe the children. Maureen washes the children first, then... (full context)
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July returns later that night, apparently not trusting the family to take care of themselves. He’s... (full context)
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A few days ago, July sat in the Smales’ living room—something he never did—and offered to shelter the family at... (full context)
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July’s home is a settlement of mud huts inhabited by his extended family. Last night, when... (full context)
Chapter 3
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July introduces Maureen to his wife, Martha, who has a “black-black, closed face.” Martha sits on... (full context)
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Maureen watches the baby, July’s youngest, who was conceived during one of his home-leaves and born when he was back... (full context)
Chapter 4
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July’s wife asks him why he had to bring the white people to their home. In... (full context)
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July continues, recounting how, at the airport the other day, Black forces shot down a plane... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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July’s wife criticizes the white people’s appearances. They look disheveled and dirty—not at all as she... (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 build the... (full context)
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July enters the huts to fetch the family’s clothes for washing. Maureen insists that she can... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...invention” that doesn’t exist in the village. On the Smales’ second weekend in the village, July invites Bam to participate in the beer-drinking, talking, and singing that happens over the course... (full context)
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...villagers she’s observed using items she recognizes from her house. The other day, she noticed July holding a pair of her scissors. While Maureen had always thought July to be “perfectly... (full context)
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...disease. A silence passes between them, which is common these days. Finally, Bam argues that July’s people would look after the children if something should happen to the two of them.... (full context)
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...wire. She used to think it would be fun to visit here and see how July lived, she tells Bam. She’d imagined the trip as a mini vacation: they’d go while... (full context)
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Bam leaves the hut to try to find out where July is but only receives vague, unhelpful replies. He returns and tells Maureen that it was... (full context)
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...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 snow of Canada. If they’d fled there... (full context)
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...but white people convinced that they are racially superior. If only they could speak with July’s people and defend themselves, she laments. Bam urges Maureen not to “go fishing. Not at... (full context)
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...Were it not for the pouring rain outside, Maureen knows she’d be able to hear July’s voice, for she knows him to be a “talkative man, liking to run through small... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...bed, Bam gives her half-naked body an incredulous look. As Maureen hastily dresses, they hear July’s voice at the doorway. (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... (full context)
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July leaves. Maureen begins to cook porridge for breakfast. As Maureen cooks, she contemplates July’s concerningly... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The Smales watch July’s friend teaching him to drive the bakkie and realize that they’ve missed their opportunity to... (full context)
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July ends his driving lesson and approaches the Smales, gloating about his progress. Bam carefully remarks... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
Chapter 9
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Maureen reflects on July’s personality. Back home, she had humored his moods, too afraid to offend him and lose... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Eventually, July emerges from his hut. Maureen stands up and hands him the keys. July says nothing... (full context)
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July continues to air his grievances against Maureen, claiming that she has never trusted him and... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Maureen fights back. If July cares so much about his wife and children, she asks, then how does Ellen fit... (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, Daniel, asked to hold Bam’s gun. Bam taught Daniel to aim at a target.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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As July and his family eat their meat, July’s mother complains about the white family that is... (full context)
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July and Martha continue to bicker back and forth. Martha interrogates July about Nomvula/Nora, the Xhosa... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...rope. Victor starts whimpering about how “horrible” some of the Black villagers are compared to July.   (full context)
Chapter 13
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...that day, but they still can’t get a signal. Maureen leaves the hut and spots July and Daniel fixing the bakkie. July emerges from beneath the vehicle and offers a vague... (full context)
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After Daniel leaves, July asks Maureen if her family is hungry—he saw her gathering vegetables with the other women... (full context)
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Maureen walks away and July resumes working on the bakkie. Even from far away, Maureen can tell that July is... (full context)
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Maureen turns to leave but walks back and faces July. In a quiet voice, she tells him that he doesn’t need to worry: “He won’t... (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 that Maureen... (full context)
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The next morning, the Smales family, July, and Daniel leave the village to meet with the chief. Maureen chatters affectionately with Bam... (full context)
Chapter 15
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The 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... (full context)
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...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, seemingly taking pleasure in... (full context)
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...reaches their destination. After waiting outside for some time, the chief emerges, prompting Daniel and July to drop to their knees. A woman appears with plastic chairs, and everyone sits down.... (full context)
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...deeply, mortified by her reaction. Bam, who takes the chief’s comment as gloating, says nothing. July won’t look at him. In the silence, a few of the onlookers walk away. (full context)
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...of his mouth. He asks how many guns Bam has at “Mwawate’s place,” referring to July. Bam and Maureen realize that they haven’t known July’s real name for all 15 years... (full context)
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The meeting comes to an abrupt end. Before the Smales, Daniel, and July return to the bakkie, the chief asks Maureen if her family has been taken care... (full context)
Chapter 16
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July criticizes the chief on the ride back to his village, accusing the man of being... (full context)
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July drops off Bam and Maureen in front of their hut. Gina, Victor, and Royce remain... (full context)
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Bam changes the subject to complain about July’s earlier remark about “let[ting]” Bam drive. “A treat for me,” Bam remarks wryly, observing that... (full context)
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Maureen refuses to back down. July didn’t join the Soweto people, she claims. When he brought the Smales to his village,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...woman” doesn’t grasp that they’re going to the field to cut grass, not gather food. July’s mother watches as her daughter-in-law tries to explain the different types of plants to the... (full context)
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It’s the perfect weather to collect grasses for thatching, and July’s mother is excited to check out a spot near the river that she’s been eyeing... (full context)
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Later, Martha and July are in their hut. July is eating a meal Martha has prepared for him. It’s... (full context)
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Martha tells July that he has “forgotten some things.” When July doesn’t understand what she’s talking about, Martha... (full context)
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Martha suggests an alternative: July can stay here after the fighting is over. They can get more land and grow... (full context)
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Martha interrupts July’s ruminations to ask him how much money he lost. “More than a hundred pounds,” he... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...Smales children excitedly drag their disinterested parents to join in the festivities. There, they meet July. He explains to them, with “the city man’s good-natured amusement at country people’s diversions,” that... (full context)
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...projects music from an amplifier kept in the box, and the villagers pass around beer. “July’s white people” leave the festivities prematurely. “The father” doesn’t want to drink the ill-tasting beer,... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...at her husband, “who ha[s] nothing, now” and sets off toward the gumba-gumba to confront July—Mwawate—about the missing gun. When she doesn’t find him there, she goes to the women’s hut.... (full context)
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Maureen leaves the hut and walks toward the river, but July isn’t there, either. As she walks, she suffers from the distinct sense “of not being... (full context)
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Maureen makes her way to the bakkie’s hiding place—July and Daniel’s “retreat.” She thinks back to when she and Bam had entertained the idea... (full context)
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Maureen finds July sitting on a stool beside the bakkie. She demands that he return the gun. July’s... (full context)
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Maureen tells July that he has to get the gun back from Daniel. July can smell the familiar... (full context)
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Enraged by July’s seeming unwillingness to cooperate, Maureen accuses him of stealing from their house. She mentions the... (full context)
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July is furious. He speaks animatedly in his own language. Maureen might not understand the words,... (full context)
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...fierce anger, and “she t[ells] him the truth, which is always disloyal.” She claims that July is happy to stay behind and “profit by the others’ fighting.” She accuses him stealing... (full context)
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...Bam remarks on how dirty her feet are. She cleans them with the river water July brought them, which they keep in an oil-drum that belongs to July. Maureen wonders aloud... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...the pot and form it into balls, which they stab with hooks. They run to July and ask him for string. He returns with real fishing-line. (full context)