July’s People

by

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.
Power  Theme Icon

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 refugees drastically alters their relationship with July. In town, July had been the Smaleses’ house servant. He was also a Black man in a society that afforded preferential treatment to white citizens while oppressing non-white citizens. Life in July’s village alters the power dynamic between the Smaleses and July, as the Smaleses no longer hold the power of employment or social hierarchy over him. July’s empowerment gives him more freedom to dictate the terms of his relationship with the Smaleses. The Smaleses, in turn, realize that their reliance on July for food, shelter, and community acceptance drastically alters the way they interact with him. For instance, they become more cautious and deferential—just as July had been when he worked for them in town.

This subversion of power forces the Smaleses to see their former relationship with July in a new light. Maureen, in particular, realizes how significantly uneven power dynamics destabilize and delegitimize what she had formerly considered to be a loving friendship between herself and the man who used to be her servant. July’s People presents human life as a complex, interconnected system of power dynamics in which every decision or action that increases or preserves the power of one person or group comes at the direct expense of another. In explicit and nuanced ways, the characters in July’s People repeatedly assess situations and make decisions based on who is empowered, who is oppressed, and what they must do to preserve or improve their own status.

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Power ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Power appears in each chapter of July’s People. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Power Quotes in July’s People

Below you will find the important quotes in July’s People related to the theme of Power .
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:

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[.]

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The seats from the vehicle no longer belonged to it; they had become the furniture of the hut. Outside in an afternoon cooled by a rippled covering of grey luminous clouds, she sat on the ground as others did. Over the valley beyond the kraal of euphorbia and dead thorn where the goats were kept: she knew the vehicle was there. A ship that had docked in a far country. Anchored in the khakiweed, it would rust and be stripped to hulk, unless it made the journey back, soon.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

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.—

Related Characters: July (speaker), Maureen Smales, Martha, July’s Mother
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

She was already not what she was. No fiction could compete with what she was finding she did not know, could not have imagined or discovered through imagination. They had nothing.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Did the photographer know what he saw, when they crossed the road like that, together? Did the book, placing the pair in its context, give the reason she and Lydia, in their affection and ignorance, didn’t know?

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Lydia, The Photographer
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

There was nowhere to run to. Nothing to get away in. All he could say to Maureen was that it was July. July.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 8 Quotes

There was the moment to ask him for the keys. But it was let pass.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Submission to the elements was something forgotten, back there.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Bam Smales (speaker), July (speaker), Maureen Smales, Gina
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Abstractions hardened into the concrete: even death is a purchase. One of Bam’s senior partners could afford his at the cost of a private plane—in which he crashed. July’s old mother (was she not perhaps his grandmother?) would crawl, as Maureen was watching her now, coming home with wood, and grass for her brooms on her head, bent lower and lower towards the earth until finally she sank to it—the only death she could afford.

Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

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—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), Bam Smales, July
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, July, Daniel
Related Symbols: The Bakkie
Page Number: 73
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 11 Quotes

—They will bring trouble. I don’t mind those people—what do they matter to me? But white people bring trouble.—

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), July, July’s Mother
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

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?—

Related Characters: Bam Smales (speaker), Maureen Smales
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

—But you don’t mean the way it was, you don’t mean that. Do you? You don’t mean that.—

Related Characters: Maureen Smales (speaker), July
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Maureen Smales, July
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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: