July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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Maureen Smales Character Analysis

The main protagonist of July’s People, Maureen is married to Bam Smales, a white, affluent South African architect. The couple has three children: Victor, Gina, and Royce. The Smaleses pride themselves on their progressive, anti-apartheid views and always gone to great lengths to treat their Black house servant, July, with dignity and respect. Maureen’s father, “the shift boss,” made a fortune in the mining industry under apartheid, exploiting and mistreating his Black workers for profit. Maureen is ashamed of her family’s complicity in the oppression of South Africa’s Black population and tries desperately to distance herself from her past. However, while Maureen outwardly supports Black liberation, her latent racism becomes increasingly evident once the racial hierarchy of post-apartheid society robs the Smaleses of the status and privilege they enjoyed—if reluctantly—under apartheid. The Smaleses rely on July for food, shelter, and protection in July’s rural village, and Maureen struggles to accept this new power dynamic. While she acknowledges that her family owes their lives to July, she resents being beholden to him and begins to question his loyalty. Maureen’s doubt about July grows after she sees villagers using items from the Smaleses’ home in Johannesburg, which July presumably stole over his many years of service. Maureen repeatedly confronts July about his abuses of power, such as when he and a friend leave the village in the Smales’ bakkie without asking for permission. July’s rebuttals to Maureen’s increasingly hostile confrontations also shed light on the many ways that Maureen has unintentionally insulted and dehumanized July over his years of service. While Maureen never overtly confronts her latent racism, the culture shock and powerlessness she experiences while living in July’s village gives her a new perspective on how alienated and oppressed July must have felt working for them in Johannesburg. In the final scene, Maureen abandons July’s village and her family to chase down a helicopter that has just landed in the distant bushland, though she doesn’t know whether the helicopter carries ally or enemy forces. Simultaneously too ashamed to confront or reject her internalized racism and other demons, Maureen abandons her old life in pursuit of the unknown.

Maureen Smales Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below are all either spoken by Maureen Smales or refer to Maureen 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 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:

Did the photographer know what he saw, when they crossed the road like that, together? Did the book, placing the pair in its context, give the reason she and Lydia, in their affection and ignorance, didn’t know?

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Lydia, The Photographer
Page Number: 33
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 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 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 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:

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

Maureen Smales Character Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the character Maureen Smales appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...dung, and cobwebs hang from the walls above. The man and woman are Bam and Maureen Smales, of Bamford Smales, Smales, Caprano & Partners and Western Areas Gold Mines, respectively. As... (full context)
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Maureen compares the harrowing journey to the fever that brings delirium. She remembers its sensations in... (full context)
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Back in the present, Maureen watches as pigs pass by the doorway. She hears somebody speaking in an unfamiliar language.... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...a man to shoot much of anything. Before the children were born, Bam would take Maureen on trips to Botswana or Mozambique. (full context)
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Bam had bought the bakkie for pleasure. Although Maureen was displeased when she saw him arrive home in the vehicle for the first time,... (full context)
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Maureen recounts the political circumstances that led to this point in time. It was 1980, and... (full context)
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...the city continued, banks would issue a moratorium. In response to this information, Bam and Maureen covertly withdrew thousands of dollars from the bank. However, the banks didn’t close. Citizens subdued... (full context)
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...admitting it—was that they couldn’t retrieve their money and investments, like the De Beers shares Maureen had inherited from her maternal grandfather, from the banks. Now, as order returned to the... (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 herself in the dirty water. Bam risks catching bilharzia and... (full context)
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...imposter.” July gestures toward a can of goat milk he’s brought with him. He advises Maureen to boil it if she likes—goat milk is very different from the sterilized, refrigerated bottles... (full context)
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...family at his home. So, they loaded the children into the bakkie, covered them and Maureen with a tarp, and drove into the night. Because they were too afraid to use... (full context)
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...home is a settlement of mud huts inhabited by his extended family. Last night, when Maureen expressed her fear that the sight of the bakkie would alert outsiders to the fact... (full context)
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Everybody struggles to adapt to their new surroundings. Victor asks Maureen if he can play with the electric racing-car track that he managed to sneak aboard... (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 the floor... (full context)
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Maureen watches the baby, July’s youngest, who was conceived during one of his home-leaves and born... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...continue to work—just as they had back home, where Bam expected July to help him. Maureen sits to the side as the men work. Bam keeps the radio on, and he... (full context)
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Maureen contemplates the savannah bush that extends for as far as the eye can see. Her... (full context)
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July enters the huts to fetch the family’s clothes for washing. Maureen insists that she can do it herself. July pauses. Maureen asks if July’s wife will... (full context)
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Unable to work or remain idle, Maureen considers starting a book, Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), that she snatched from home as... (full context)
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Maureen daydreams about her childhood in the mining town. In the memory, Maureen is on her... (full context)
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One day, a photographer takes a picture of Maureen and Lydia while they are out at the shops. He asks them if they mind.... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...has had to do and the constant presence of the children have kept Bam and Maureen from talking seriously about their situation. Tonight, however, the children are gone, fixated on a... (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 on their... (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 it’s back... (full context)
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...her frowning face before him. Suddenly, Bam awakens to the sound of the revving bakkie. Maureen runs out of the hut just in time to see the vehicle disappearing into the... (full context)
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...find out where July is but only receives vague, unhelpful replies. He returns and tells Maureen that it was likely July who took the bakkie. Bam had given July the keys... (full context)
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The boys wander back into the hut. Maureen opens a can of pork sausages for dinner. She calls for Gina, who enters carrying... (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... (full context)
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Maureen sits with her back to Bam and adjusts the radio, unable to get a signal.... (full context)
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Maureen’s father had spoken “the bastard black lingua franca,” though his vocabulary was limited to giving... (full context)
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Bam accuses Maureen argue some more. Finally, Bam puts his hands up in exasperation. “I know I gave... (full context)
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...thatched roof. 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 hut and removes her clothing, letting water... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The next morning, Maureen wakes up to the sound of her children coughing in their sleep. Bam pours boiling... (full context)
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...in. He enters, carrying firewood. Bam cautiously asks July where he took the bakkie yesterday. Maureen adds that they were “worried.” July mentions something about going “to the shops.” His flippant... (full context)
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July leaves. Maureen begins to cook porridge for breakfast. As Maureen cooks, she contemplates July’s concerningly careless behavior.... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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.  (full context)
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...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.  (full context)
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Maureen changes the subject. She mentions that Martha gave her some medicine for the children’s coughs.... (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... (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... (full context)
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Maureen still has the bakkie keys from when she retrieved the rubber mat last night. She... (full context)
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Eventually, July emerges from his hut. Maureen stands up and hands him the keys. July says nothing at first. Bam has gone... (full context)
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July continues to air his grievances against Maureen, claiming that she has never trusted him and never took her eyes off of him... (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... (full context)
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Maureen fights back. If July cares so much about his wife and children, she asks, then... (full context)
Chapter 10
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When Bam returns to the village with his kill, Maureen intercepts him. She reminds him to give the villagers the bigger piglet before whispering in... (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... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...a plastic sack to store litter for the stray cat and kittens they’ve brought home. Maureen recognizes the sack as the kind that people sell oranges in, “back there.” Just then,... (full context)
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...appreciate it. When Bam returns to the hut to catch the 4:00 news, he finds Maureen asleep on the bed. Bam watches his sleeping wife and envisions himself as a prisoner.... (full context)
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Bam and Maureen turn on the radio, but the reception is too poor to hear anything. It’s become... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Maureen gathers vegetables with the other women in the field. The afternoon sun beats down on... (full context)
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Maureen and Bam try to listen to the news later that day, but they still can’t... (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 earlier and... (full context)
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Maureen walks away and July resumes working on the bakkie. Even from far away, Maureen can... (full context)
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Maureen turns to leave but walks back and faces July. In a quiet voice, she tells... (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... (full context)
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...morning, the Smales family, 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... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...gives no indication that he plans to speak, Bam takes the initiative and introduces himself, Maureen, and the children to the man. The man asks where they came from, even though... (full context)
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...Bam’s confusion. He explains that the man is the chief’s “headman.” Bam turns to address Maureen privately, expressing his regret that they haven’t brought the chief a gift. Maureen scoffs: what... (full context)
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Suddenly, in English, the chief says, “And they want to kill you.” Maureen laughs involuntarily and then immediately blushes deeply, mortified by her reaction. Bam, who takes the... (full context)
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...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 they’ve known him.... (full context)
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...abrupt end. Before the Smales, Daniel, and July return to the bakkie, the chief asks Maureen if her family has been taken care of at July’s village. Maureen turns to July... (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 as July... (full context)
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...U.S. sending an aircraft in to rescue American citizens and citizens from other European countries. Maureen tells him she hadn’t heard that one. She knows she doesn’t need to remind Bam... (full context)
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Maureen pauses before asking Bam about the chief’s interest in the gun. Bam squats beside her... (full context)
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Maureen refuses to back down. July didn’t join the Soweto people, she claims. When he brought... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...in the field. Martha carries a baby strapped to her back. She observes that “ the white woman ” doesn’t grasp that they’re going to the field to cut grass, not gather food.... (full context)
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...near the river that she’s been eyeing for weeks. She points at the white woman. Maureen smiles back, pretending to laugh at a joke that she does not understand. Martha interferes.... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Maureen spots a man walking toward the settlement carrying a red box on his head. She... (full context)
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The man with the red trunk passes by Maureen and announces his arrival to the village. Maureen hears “a deafening, fading and lurching bellow... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Upon closer investigation, the Smales 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... (full context)
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Maureen looks at her husband, “who ha[s] nothing, now” and sets off toward the gumba-gumba to... (full context)
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Maureen leaves the hut and walks toward the river, but July isn’t there, either. As she... (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... (full context)
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Maureen finds July sitting on a stool beside the bakkie. She demands that he return the... (full context)
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Maureen tells July that he has to get the gun back from Daniel. July can smell... (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 crane scissors she saw him... (full context)
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July is furious. He speaks animatedly in his own language. Maureen might not understand the words, but July’s meaning is clear: all these years, he has... (full context)
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Maureen is suddenly seized with a fierce anger, and “she t[ells] him the truth, which is... (full context)
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Maureen returns to the hut. Bam and the children are eating mealie-meal. Maureen ignores them and... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Around mid-day, Maureen Smales is by herself in the hut, repairing a pair of her son’s shorts. The... (full context)
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Maureen sets aside the half-finished shorts and calmly exits the hut, walking gradually faster as she... (full context)