July’s People

by

Nadine Gordimer

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The Radio  Symbol Icon

The radio symbolizes the Smaleses’ white liberal hypocrisy. It also symbolizes the cultural displacement they experience when the country’s ongoing civil war forces them to abandon their old life in Johannesburg for July’s rural village. The Smaleses constantly tune in to the radio to receive news updates about the conflict in Johannesburg. While the Smaleses take pride in their progressive, anti-apartheid politics, their fixation with the news reveals a contradiction between their progressive politics and their desire for a political situation that favors their race and social status. Presumably, the Smaleses are listening to the radio with the hope that a news broadcast will announce the defeat of the Black rebel fighters, an end of the civil war, and a return to the apartheid-era social order that existed before the conflict began. In other words, the Smaleses long for the reinstatement of an oppressive regime that they have long condemned. This contradiction between the Smaleses’ theoretical political views and their practical hopes for the future illustrates the limitations of white liberalism. While the Smaleses support equality ideologically, their constant radio monitoring suggests that they are not entirely willing to embrace a new social order that robs them of the many privileges they used to enjoy. They might support racial equality and oppose apartheid—but only so long as these social changes don’t negatively impact their quality of life. As the couple obsessively tunes in to the radio to listen for news of an end to the fighting and a return to the status quo, they find it increasingly hard to ignore the fact that their desire to return to their old life directly contradicts their supposedly progressive, anti-apartheid views. Maureen and Bam claim to support Black liberation, yet they also desire the privileges that Black oppression affords them. 

The Radio Quotes in July’s People

The July’s People quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Radio . 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 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:
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July’s People PDF

The Radio Symbol Timeline in July’s People

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Radio appears in July’s People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...to help him. Maureen sits to the side as the men work. Bam keeps the radio on, and he and Maureen listen to the English-speaking reporter for news of further developments... (full context)
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
The radio station that Bam and Maureen turn to for news had been off the air for... (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
Maureen sits with her back to Bam and adjusts the radio, unable to get a signal. Bam snaps at her about wasting the battery. Maureen thinks... (full context)
Chapter 7
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...children coughing in their sleep. Bam pours boiling water onto tea-leaves and listens to the radio, which is reporting news of missiles falling on the city last night. Maureen can sense... (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
...them once the rain clears. He grins as he tosses them some batteries for their radio. (full context)
Chapter 12
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
Bam and Maureen turn on the radio, but the reception is too poor to hear anything. It’s become too difficult to talk... (full context)
Chapter 16
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...the front to sit next to July. Once inside their hut, Bam turns on the radio. Neither Bam nor Maureen can get a signal, and the sound of the static is... (full context)
Chapter 18
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
...head. She no longer has the patience to watch “the blond man fiddle[] with the radio.” Her children are with her. She watches them gleefully play on the rocks at the... (full context)