July’s People


Nadine Gordimer

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Themes and Colors
Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid  Theme Icon
Gratitude and Resentment  Theme Icon
White Liberalism and Hypocrisy  Theme Icon
Power  Theme Icon
Cultural Displacement  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in July’s People, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Racial Hierarchy and Apartheid

July’s People was published in 1981, a decade before the end of the apartheid era in South Africa. Apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning “apartness,” was a system of racial oppression enforced in South Africa after the all-white National Party gained power in 1948, until around 1991, when the administration of President F.W. de Klerk began to repeal much of the era’s core legislation. The legislation of the apartheid era enforced racial segregation, limited contact between…

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Gratitude and Resentment

Maureen and Bam Smales are well aware that they owe their lives to July for helping them flee the violence of Johannesburg and providing them with food, shelter, and protection in his rural village. Yet, despite this awareness, they struggle to reconcile their gratitude for July’s generosity with their growing feelings of resentment toward him for leveraging their indebtedness against them. In Johannesburg, July was the Smaleses’ servant, and their feelings toward him were unanimously…

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White Liberalism and Hypocrisy

Bam Smales, a wealthy, white South African architect, and his wife, Maureen, consider themselves fundamentally different from white South Africans who support apartheid. They preach the progressive ideals of racial equality and human rights and pride themselves on treating their Black house servant, July, with dignity and respect. Yet, many of the Smaleses’ actions contradict the liberal ideologies to which they subscribe. Their progressivism is disingenuous and performative, and they are ignorant…

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July’s People explores the power dynamics at play in a society that enforces a racial hierarchy. Power dynamics influence every aspect of life in the fictionalized post-apartheid South Africa of the novel, from the political and systemic forces that shape legislation to the interpersonal relationships and everyday interactions between characters. When July smuggles the Smaleses into his rural village to help them escape the dangerous conditions of war-torn Johannesburg, the Smaleses’ new status as powerless…

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Cultural Displacement

One of the biggest challenges that life in July’s rural village poses for the Smales family is learning to adjust to a culture that is drastically different from their own. The Smaleses are an affluent, white South African family. Their old life in Johannesburg, which Maureen and Bam refer to as “back there,” was defined by the ease, comfort, and material pleasures that their race, class, and social status afforded them. When civil war…

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