The writer of this story (country lovers) seemingly portrays a metamorphism of a relationship from the setting of fantasy and childish virtue, into harsh adult reality. The subject of the story is Thebedi and Paulus, two children from very different backgrounds, worlds spaced out, who build up a friendship while yet in the childhood stage of colour blindness; where friendship is based on character, rather than the colour of one’s skin or their status in the pecking order of society. Innocence seems to be the theme of the story at the beginning and through out the story. Through innocence we glimpse a world full of hatred bias prejudice, favoritism and superiority. Where one is unaware of the happenings outside the insulating bubble of childhood and innocence, two words that present an image of purity.
In the early stages of their companionship, while still in the cocoon of childhood, Paulus, the son of a rich white farmer and Thebedi, the daughter of a poor black farmhand (working for Paulus’ father), interact freely without guilt or secrecy as society does not yet influence or affect their thoughts of each other, reality has not yet seeped into their world. But as they reach the beginning of adolescence they begin to comprehend the concept of the ‘separating line’, the stereotypical qualities that divide one race from the other. I think the author uses gender to initiate the ‘master, servant’ mentality. The writer, Nadine Gordimer gives Thebedi the role of a woman, which in society is considered ‘weaker’ than that of a man, Paulus. Thebedi’s character is obedient, submissive and this is where the issue of race integrates with her character.
Submission is the giving of one’s self to a higher, superior being; in this case to Paulus, the white man. In this sense Thebedi as expected has to play a subtler role in their relationship as she lets Paulus dominate the whole show. Thebedi has two handicaps against her: the fact that, she’s black and the second is that she’s female. Her character is also that of a naive, trusting person, noiselessly accepting all that she is given, even though it does not please her. The dominance of Paulus character is plain as the nose on your face with the first and most important reason being the fact that he is white, the second being that he is wealthy. But despite those two characteristics Paulus seems to be a nice fellow, the kind of person who is straightforward with everything around him.
Their friendship evolves from a platonic level into the advancement of them becoming lovers. However, everything is done in secrecy, as they now understand the ‘imprecision’ of their- liaison, their affections verge on unthinkable.
As their relationship progresses, they become actors on two stages as the outside world begins to obstruct their relationship. They begin to vigorously take part in the contrasting worlds allocated to them, but when they are together nothing seems to have changed. Although one cannot deny the minor cracks that begin to evidently appear in their relationship. This leaves one wondering whether the racist feelings have been sown deep into their mind and like a latent volcano is waiting to burst forth, in a flourish of spectacular force. It seems that both characters seem to be living the present, from the memories of the past. Regardless from which perspective one looks at, it is indisputable that there is bound to be no equality in the relationship.
As the final scene unfolds it makes one begin to consider that maybe this ‘love affair’ was destined from the beginning and was more a product of inquisitiveness than that of love. When Paulus first learns about his child, his true character emerges. We begin to see his selfishness in the statement ‘don’t take it out. Stay inside. Can’t you take it away somewhere? You must give it to someone.’ This shows his immaturity in his reluctance to take responsibility for his actions. This highlights two things; first, the relationship between him and Tabedi meant nothing to him, since Thabedi was black and secondly she was a female – always being placed under men. It is as if he feels like he can wash his hands off Thebedi whenever it pleases him, regardless of her feelings. However when Paulus kills his child, one can’t help but feel totally outraged. The murder of the child is like an act of erasing any traces of his and Thebedi’s union, their whole variety of ways. Also in the way most of the articles are covered mainly from Paulus’ perspective with hardly any from Thebedi’s. The judicial system seems to have also failed in the sense of the way they handled the case.
We farther more uncover the widespread complexities of racism in the Media and Judicial system. In the Media we see it in the form of Thebedi’s name being spelled by variety of ways. A year went by before the same town the case was brought to trial, and a hearing date was set. This is also a stereotype, the way the judicial system is always failing the blacks, which is basically saying justice is not colour-blind. With all these obstacles stacked in front of her, why should she even begin to think that she could stand up against a white person? A feeling that is familiar with an oppressed black people. Paulus achievement is a typical one, the moral of the story being; the white always win.
However I felt this story was too stereotypical and was written with favoritism towards the white, simply because it ended in a stereotypical way. It is also negative in the hidden message it seems to put across; that all unions between white and black can’t end up successful. Although I felt all these negative feelings about the story, I am quite pleased in the way Nadine Gordimer handled the stereotypes and showed the discrimination of society’s structure in South Africa at that time.