July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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The Chief Character Analysis

The chief has authority over settlements in July’s region. After word spreads that July is housing a white family in his village, the chief orders the Smales family to see him. He will allow them to remain in July’s village—but only if they ask for permission in person. That the Smaleses must appeal to a Black authority figure to be in a Black-dominated space illustrates how radically the end of apartheid has upended the racial hierarchy. During the Smaleses’ meeting with the chief, the chief asks Bam many questions about the ongoing civil war and expresses interest in learning to shoot Bam’s gun. Bam is shocked to hear the chief claim that he would prefer to shoot Black rebels than cede his land to outside tribes that have joined forces with the South African fighters. The chief condemns Black liberation and the ongoing war. He wants the white apartheid government to take back control of South Africa, since their system protects his land from being invaded by Black people from outside tribes.

The Chief Quotes in July’s People

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

The Chief Character Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the character The Chief appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...is silent. Something is still bothering him. After a pause, he tells Maureen that the chief has asked about the white people that July is keeping in the village. He’s agreed... (full context)
Chapter 14
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
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 might tell Martha about... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...next 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... (full context)
Chapter 15
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...fighting in Johannesburg until July interrupts to say that it’s time to go to the chief’s house. (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
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... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
The party 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... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
The chief wants to know why the police don’t just arrest people the way they did in... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Suddenly, in English, the chief says, “And they want to kill you.” Maureen laughs involuntarily and then immediately blushes deeply,... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
The chief’s words shock Bam. He argues that the chief can’t possibly wish to shoot his own... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...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 of at July’s village. Maureen turns... (full context)
Chapter 16
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
July criticizes the chief on the ride back to his village, accusing the man of being all talk. Although... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Maureen pauses before asking Bam about the chief’s interest in the gun. Bam squats beside her and smiles, finally telling her about his... (full context)
Chapter 17
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...meal Martha has prepared for him. It’s been several days since the visit to the chief, and July tells Martha about the successful visit. Martha considers how strange it is to... (full context)