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Black people have to work as hired household help or as farm labor while white people own the economic resources of production. Gordimer's mother had a black maid and it is likely that this made her sensitive to the inequality between the two communities (Gordimer et al. 1990).
On the other hand, What it's Like to be a Black Girl explores the psychological pressure and turmoil that a young black girl living in an urban society has to go through. Her identity is shaped by her consciousness of her physical appearance and how different it is from the white-skinned acceptable norm of society. She also has to deal with her developing sexuality and the responses that elicits from people in her community. The poem shows how the young black girl has to accept her fate as a passive sexual being to satisfy the needs of the male.
Compared with Thebedi, the young girl in What it's Like to be a Girl is aware of the societal demands of her and how she is to bear herself. Thebedi has to learn this through experience.
Comparative Analysis of Form
Both the texts deal with the theme of racism but go about it in different forms. Country Lovers is a short story written in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is an important story because it explores apartheid from a woman's point-of-view. This is significant because according to Sullivan and Stevens (2010), women who lived through apartheid interpret their experiences through the lens of male experiences. This story, like others by Gordimer, reflects theme of "the struggle" between exploited and exploiter (Attridge & Jolly, 1998, p. 66). The short story typically deals with unity of time and place. However, the story in Country Lovers spans over several years following the life of the two main characters from childhood to adulthood. Covering this longer period is important to show how the racist norms and attitudes of the society affect the minds of individuals by the time they have matured into independent individuals. When they are children, Paulus and Thebedi can be friendly with one another and play together. However, as they grow older they fall in love but learn to hide it from their communities. Towards the end when they are mature adults, they end up having nothing to do with one another and their lives are headed along completely separate paths.
The unity of place is maintained throughout the story in the form of the farm community. The South African farm has been used in South African literature to depict the colonial conflict and white supremacy in the country (Devarenne, 2009). This unity helps to emphasize the consequences that challenging racist social norms can have on individual lives and their standing in the community. The lives of Thebedi and Njabulo are not much affected by the scandal since they have low social status. However, the life of Paulus and his family has been affected because the scandal has brought shame to their good name. The changing nature of relationships has also been shown through the stages of exposition, rising action, crisis, resolution and denouement. Initially, Thebedi and Paulus are friends; the friendship then grows into young love. The love leads to a crisis in their lives in the form of a lovechild that can have grave consequences for their families if the identity of the father is discovered. This leads to the murder of the lovechild by the father bringing on a scandal that involves the entire district. The conflict is resolved when the father is acquitted of murder at the trial. In the denouement stage, both the central characters have gotten over the feelings of their childhood and adolescence. They have accepted the demands of the racist social norms and have resigned to their fate. Both have become involved in their normal lives and consider their past relationship as merely a thing of their childhood.
What it's Like to be a Black Girl is a poem written in free verse. It is not divided into formal stanzas and does not have a predictable rhyme or meter. Somers-Willett (2009, p. 134) categorizes this form of explicit poetry as slam poetry and interprets this form as a rebellion against the dominant order. This idea can be translated to the rebellion against racist supremacy in society. This form conveys the stream of consciousness that the central character experiences and helps to communicate the rising anxieties experienced by the black girl. It also progresses from her concerns about her physical appearance such as the color of her eyes and her hair onto more mature feelings such as the sexual harassment experienced on the streets. From the impressions of childhood, the imagery becomes more graphic and uncomfortable for the reader as the poem describes "smelling blood in your breakfast" and other signs of female puberty.
The poem also towards the climax where the young girl has become used to the life of violence and callousness and has developed into a mature sexual creature to satisfy the sexual desires of the male who reaches out for her. The ultimate end of the black girl is to become a source of sexual satisfaction. She has no other purpose to life and she has resigned to this fate designed for her by society. She has no self-esteem and cannot stand up for herself.
Comparative Analysis of Style
The short story Country Lovers has been written in the third person. The use of the third person imparts an air of objectivity to the events in the story, which is important to highlight the impact of social norms on all the members of a community. The use of third person also helps to lend credibility to the narration and the reader believes what the narrator is telling him. The use of third person in the short story also makes it easier for the reader to become involved in the proceedings of the story. The story makes use of imagery to bring to life the realism of the story and the environment of the farm community.
The poem What it's Like to be a Black Girl has been written in the first person. The use of first person in the poem allows the reader to experience first-hand what the protagonist is going through. It allows the reader to empathize with the trauma and psychological distress being experienced by the black girl. The poem also relies on the use of imagery to evoke sense perceptions of the experiences of the black girl. The use of food coloring to change the color of the eye and smelling blood in the breakfast are emphatic images.
Both Country Lovers and What it's Like to be a Black Girl help to convey the effects of racism on the social norms and the psychology of the individuals within the society. The lives of both the discriminator and the discriminated are affected by the way in which racist norms are established in society. Both these poems portray how the lives of black women are affected by the racist norms and ideals of their respective societies.
Attridge, D., & Jolly, R.J. (1998). Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid and Democracy 1970-1995. Cambridge University Press.
Devarenne, N. (2009). Nationalism and the Farm Novel in South Africa, 1883-2004. Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 35 (3), pp. 627-642. Accessed on 10 May 2012 from EBSCOhost database
Das, B.K., & Khan, M.Q. (2007). Studies in Postcolonial Literature. Atlantic Publishers and Distributors.
Gordimer, N., Bazin, N.T., & Seymour, M.D. (1990). Conversations with Nadine Gordimer. University Press of Mississippi.
Lentin, a. (2011). Racism and Ethnic Discrimination. The Rosen Publishing Group.
Lowenberg, a.D., & Kaempfer, W.H. (1998). The Origins and Demise of South African Apartheid. University of Michigan Press.
Sommers-Willett S.B.A. (2009). The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. University of Michigan Press.
Sullivan, L.G., & Stevens. G. (2010). Through Her Eyes: Relational References in Black Women's Narratives of…[continue]
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