July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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Martha Character Analysis

Martha is July’s wife and the mother of his children. Because July can only return to his village once every two years, Martha and July don’t have a very close relationship. Prior to the violent situation in Johannesburg forcing July and the Smaleses to abandon the city, Martha’s contact with her husband was limited to letters and the regular paychecks he would send home to support his family. Martha opposes July’s decision to house the Smales family. She struggles to understand July’s loyalty to the Smaleses and what compels him to continue to serve white people who no longer have the means to pay him. Like July’s mother, Martha has had minimal contact with white people and generally distrusts them. She urges July to convince the Smaleses to seek shelter outside of July’s village. While Martha never becomes friendly with the Smaleses, she respects July’s loyalty to the family by helping them out herself. For instance, she gives Maureen an herbal medicine to help with the children’s coughs. She also chastises July’s mother for being judgmental of Maureen’s ignorance about the region’s native plants.

Martha Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below are all either spoken by Martha or refer to Martha. 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 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 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:
Get the entire July’s People LitChart as a printable PDF.
July’s People PDF

Martha Character Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the character Martha appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
July introduces Maureen to his wife, Martha, who has a “black-black, closed face.” Martha sits on the floor next to an older... (full context)
Chapter 4
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
July’s wife asks him why he had to bring the white people to their home. In preparation... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
July’s wife criticizes the white people’s appearances. They look disheveled and dirty—not at all as she had... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...for washing. Maureen insists that she can do it herself. July pauses. Maureen asks if July’s wife will do the washing, then, and offers to pay her. July accepts Maureen’s cash. Maureen... (full context)
Chapter 8
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Maureen changes the subject. She mentions that Martha gave her some medicine for the children’s coughs. This information agitates July, who insists that... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...that is still living in her house. July promises to build her a new house. Martha scrubs an enamel pot and warns him that they’ll be in trouble if anyone finds... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
July and Martha continue to bicker back and forth. Martha interrogates July about Nomvula/Nora, the Xhosa woman who... (full context)
Chapter 13
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...Maureen rolls up her jeans, revealing pale calves marked with bruises, hair, and varicose veins. Martha laughs openly at Maureen’s legs, and Maureen laughs back at July’s wife’s thick legs. (full context)
Chapter 14
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...the chief. She also mentions her suspicion about July being afraid that Maureen might tell Martha about the town woman. Bam doesn’t appear to share Maureen’s concerns and goes outside to... (full context)
Chapter 17
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 women are working in the field. Martha carries a baby strapped to her back. She observes that “the white woman” doesn’t grasp... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...woman. Maureen smiles back, pretending to laugh at a joke that she does not understand. Martha interferes. Speaking in their language, she tells July’s mother that the woman doesn’t understand that... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Later, Martha and July are in their hut. July is eating a meal Martha has prepared for... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Martha tells July that he has “forgotten some things.” When July doesn’t understand what she’s talking... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Martha suggests an alternative: July can stay here after the fighting is over. They can get... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Martha interrupts July’s ruminations to ask him how much money he lost. “More than a hundred... (full context)
Chapter 19
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 missing gun. When she doesn’t find him there, she goes to the women’s hut. Martha and July’s mother are there. Martha is struggling to bathe her resistant baby boy. She... (full context)