July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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Bam’s Shotgun Symbol Analysis

Bam’s Shotgun Symbol Icon

The gun symbolizes the Smaleses’ loss of freedom and agency. It also symbolizes the hypocrisy that underlies the Smaleses’ liberalism. Bam’s shotgun is one of the few items from the Smales family’s old life in Johannesburg that they manage to take with them as they hurriedly flee the violent atmosphere of the city for the safety of July’s rural village. Bam didn’t use his shotgun for much in his former life—only to shoot game-birds. While a more powerful type of gun might summon forth ideas of authority and protection, Bam’s shotgun is little more than a symbol of the nostalgia he feels for the freedom, privilege, and ease that he and his family enjoyed in their former life in Johannesburg. He doesn’t bring the gun to protect himself and his family against enemy forces—Bam’s gun is woefully ill-equipped for such a task. Instead, he brings the gun to remember the life he left behind: a life made possible by the oppressive system of apartheid that Bam claims to condemn. Bringing the gun as a memento of his former apartheid-era life reflects Bam’s hypocrisy. His decision to pack and meticulously covet a weapon that is useless aside from its sentimental value reveals how desperately, if unwittingly, Bam clings to a social order that disenfranchised Black South African people like July while affording white people like Bam and his family the freedom of leisure. When Bam returns to his hut to discover that the gun is missing, he doesn’t grieve his lost ability to protect his family—he grieves the loss of the former, more unrestrained way of life he left behind.

Bam’s Shotgun Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bam’s Shotgun. 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:
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 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:
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Bam’s Shotgun Symbol Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bam’s Shotgun appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...reasoning to Maureen, a palpable tension begins to build between them. Bam thinks about the gun he brought from home and hid in the hut’s thatched roof. He wonders if killing... (full context)
Chapter 10
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...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. Now, Bam waits in the reeds with... (full context)
Chapter 15
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...chief pauses, shifting a match between opposite corners 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... (full context)
Chapter 16
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 earlier—and, now, unnecessary—fear that... (full context)
Chapter 18
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...babies strapped to their backs. When they return to the hut, they find that their gun is missing.  (full context)
Chapter 19
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...that Bam’s hands are shaking. The family searches every corner of the hut, but the gun is nowhere to be found. Bam asks the boys if they took it, since “no... (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
...“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. Martha and July’s... (full context)
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
...finds July sitting on a stool beside the bakkie. She demands that he return the gun. July’s response signals to Maureen that she is mistaken: he has no idea what she’s... (full context)
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Maureen tells July that he has to get the gun back from Daniel. July can smell the familiar “cold cat-smell” of Maureen’s sweat. July angrily... (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
...treated July well. Maureen tries to tell Bam that it was Daniel who took the gun, but she can’t speak. (full context)