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 positive because they were the ones dictating the terms of the relationship. However, July’s gracious act of sheltering the Smaleses upsets this relationship, and the Smaleses suddenly find themselves at the mercy of a man over whom they once had the upper hand.
Immediately upon their arrival at the village, July begins to act in ways that emphasize the Smaleses’ indebtedness to him and test the limits of their gratitude. An early example of this is July’s insistence on keeping the keys to the bakkie, the Smaleses’ vehicle. July frames the decision as a practical matter: the Smaleses cannot safely drive the bakkie, since doing so would put them at risk of being apprehended and killed by Black rebel soldiers. It’s essential, too, that the bakkie remain hidden from view, since the presence of a white family’s vehicle could easily catch the attention of authorities, placing the Smaleses and July in danger. July’s familiarity with the geography of his homeland means that he’s better equipped to hide the vehicle than the Smaleses are. July’s reasoning tracks, yet the Smaleses can’t help but feel resentful toward him for taking advantage of their helplessness. Their resentment magnifies when July increasingly uses the bakkie less out of necessity and more to raise his social status in the village. July’s People suggests that when people lack the ability to control their circumstances, gratitude becomes indebtedness, which invariably leads to resentment.
Gratitude and Resentment ThemeTracker
Gratitude and Resentment Quotes in July’s People
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.
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[.]
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.—
—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.
There was the moment to ask him for the keys. But it was let pass.
Submission to the elements was something forgotten, back there.
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.
—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—
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.
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?—
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.
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.