Literature enables readers to explore and connect to human experiences, employing them to seek meaning and truth in the words. Writers will often reflect upon realistic situations that are of major importance to that time, using the beliefs of that culture to give emphasis to the predominant theme of the story. A writer’s viewpoint can bring significant awareness regarding important socio-political, economic, and religious views. “Country Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer and “The welcome table” written by Alice Walker are two stories that expose the cruelties of racism. In this essay I will explore the content, form and literary devices used by the writers and discuss how these elements contribute to the emotional connection of the reader.
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Country Lovers was composed in South Africa under the apartheid regime which used the law and the system of the state to impose terrible living conditions for blacks in South Africa, limiting wealth and education to the whites of South Africa. Undeniably The Immortality Act, one of many laws created for Apartheid which prohibits sexual encounters between blacks and white South Africans, is extremely relevant to comprehending the story. In comparison, Alice Walker’s “The Welcome Table” was set in the post-civil rights era in the United States. Her story focuses on the struggle of elderly pastoral blacks who seem destined to live their lives in the shadow of former slavery, not able to take advantage of the freedom provided by the civil rights movement.
Interracial intolerance is central theme shared by Gordimer’s “Country Lovers and Walker’s “The Welcome Table.” The stories illustrate social and racial conditions that drew a line of separation among the people in a society. The submissive nature of the protagonists in the respective stories is prevalent and contributes to the reader’s understanding of that period. Although the stories have related themes, there are some differentiating elements that set them apart; making each story unique in its own way thereby providing different viewpoints of the same subject. For example “Country Lovers” the theme covers interracial intolerance, yet the fundamental focus is on the innocence of young love, oppression, and subservience.. The story concentrates more on the feelings of the characters in present tense, they are introduced in the moment of the current struggles of slavery and oppression, therefore the feelings of the characters completely validate the tone, and the era gives way to the reader identifying with the difficulties of the characters. “The Welcome Table does focus on interracial intolerance, but the issues of faith, judgment and death contributes to the overall theme. This story maintains focus on the feelings of the characters stemming from past history, i.e. the abolishment of slavery and accepting the outcome of the civil rights movement. When comparing the stories, the ideas presented by the writers are easily construed, yet the approaches are distinct.
“The Welcome Table” gives an account of an Old black woman who wanders into a church to worship, and is faced with repugnance and disdain from the white members of the church. She is immediately thrown out and sees Jesus, as she walks and talks with Jesus, he responds only with a smile. She feels better having bared her soul and continues to walk and rejoice. At the end of the story she is found dead; assumed to have walked herself to death.
The plot of is conflict driven, but even before knowing the point of view the reader gets an idea of it. The story is told from the third-person omniscient point of view; and carries an indignant tone in some parts of the story; giving the reader insight to the thoughts and feelings of all character in the story. For instance, “they gazed nakedly upon their own fear transferred; a fear of the black and old, a terror of the unknown as well as of the deeply known” (Clugston, 2010 pg. 40). Knowing the internal thoughts and feelings of the congregation connects and supports the theme of interracial intolerance. By Walker revealing the fears felt by the white churchgoers she establishes the era as well as the social structure of society then. One can only assume that perhaps this fear was perpetuated by the end of slavery. Debra Dickerson, writer of “End of Blackness,” a book analyzing the attitudes of whites in the pre-civil rights era offers her reason “Not because whites hate blacks per se; they don’t really. The ostentatiously fear and feel superior to blacks both of which feelings have to do with how precious white think themselves” (2004, pg. 81). That statement could apply to both stories in my analysis.
Gordimer’s “Country Lovers”, set in South Africa, follows Paulus, a white farm owner’s son and Thebedi, a black worker on the farm. They grew up together on his family’s farm and eventually developed a relationship. Paulus went away to school while Thebedi was left behind as all of the black children usually were. Paulus returns one year and a sexual relationship is started with Thebedi. This goes on for a while and eventually Paul goes away to college. Thebedi does not tell him that she may be pregnant. She soon marries Njabulo, another worker on the farm. Two months later she gives birth to the baby, who is born light. When Paulus returns home on break he hears of the baby, and goes to see it . Two days later the baby mysteriously dies. The death of the child is investigated by the authorities, and a trial soon follows. Paulus was not convicted.
All of the events of this narrative lend support to the overall theme, Like “The Welcome Table,” this story is told in the omniscient point of view to highlight the theme of interracial intolerance. The story begins with pointing out the separation, “although most of the black children get some sort of schooling, they drop every year farther behind the grades passed by the white children” (Clugston, 2010). Starting the story with this information sets the tone for the upcoming events, and denotes the soci-economic hierarchy of that era.
In contrast to “The Welcome Table” rather than rely on symbolism to emphasize the theme, Gordimer uses simile and minor details to define the sub- themes. When discussing the childhood friendship between Paulus and Thebedi the narration points out the fear associated with the racial divide. For instance, they had a great connection as childhood friends, he would bring gifts home for her, and when she makes a bracelet for him that is admired by his friends he doesn’t tell them it’s a gift from Thebedi he simple says it was made by the natives, he did not want to admit it was a gift because it came from a person of color. In addition, when Paulus begins the secret sexual relationship with Thebedi his feelings about the encounter was that of surprise “so lovely, so lovely, he was surprised” (Clugston, 2010). When he began his sexual encounters was not a virgin, but his experience was like no other he had before, which suggests deep feelings for Thebedi. But we find as the story progresses that Paulus would never met with Thebedi in his room, they would always meet secretly and he no longer shared stories of his travel or school as well she never asked questions. The relationship seems to have become subservient, or perhaps the guilt of shame felt by Paulus for being with a black girl.
After Thebedi gives birth to her half-white baby, Gordimer descriptions leads to a conclusion supporting the theme. “Already at birth there was on its head a quantity of straight, fine floss, like that which carries the seeds of certain weeds in the veld” (2010). The baby’s hair is compared to floss that carries seeds of weeds. Weeds are undesirable undergrowth, something farmers would want to be rid of. The simile with its discerning use of the word weed almost foreshadows the events to follow. The addition of Njabulo, the husband of as well supports the theme. He willingly marries Thebedi despite her being pregnant with another’s child. He did all he could for both her and the baby. He even built a house “in the white man’s style, with a tin chimney, and a proper window” (2010). One can conceivably conclude with these unassuming details that Njabulo caring for a white man’s ( Paulus) baby represented the fight against oppression and that he too is worthy of the love of Thebedi.
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Symbolism is used substantially to convey the theme in “The Welcome Table. For example, there are references made to the climate; freezing and cold or winter. This symbol is a representation of death, or inactivity. The blue sky represented peacefulness; these representations and others were predominating within the story. The story of “Country Lovers” however, uses symbols to achieve the results needed to communicate the theme. One example of this is in the depiction of one of the encounters between Paulus and Thebedi. “The lowing of the cows being driven to graze came to them where they lay, dividing them with unspoken recognition of the sound read in those two pairs of eyes, opening so close to each other” ( 2010 ). The pasture and fields brings and air of primitiveness and foreboding. The individual recognition of the surrounding’s cues demonstrates the unity of the couple.
The two short stories both contain all of the literary elements indicative of the form of a short story. The writing style of Alice Walker’s “The Welcome Table” is straightforward and simple, even for the weak readers. She combines many literary techniques such as point of view to tones of irony and compassion. The story is condensed taking place in a single day, with the exception of the body of the old woman being found the next day. In this story names are not revealed, perhaps to offer a more universal quality or timelessness; as if to elevate the role of “old lady” to any African American woman.
Nadine Gordimer on the other hand uses setting as her central technique. Her writing describes the settings where conflicts are witnessed and character development is observed. Gordimer’s narrative also shares more detail; it occurs over several years, we are able to see a relationship development and evolve. Because the characters are personalized, knowing their names enables us to connect with them.
Notably, each story is reflective of their respective author’s own experiences; each containing a sense of their political, social, and economic influence. The direct approach of both authors allows readers to gain insight into their existing environments.
The two stories remind us of histories past. In discussion this subject Rita Barnard, author of Apartheid and Beyond writes “In fact, Gordimer herself once described her most enduring intellectual preoccupation as an effort to see or find ‘the link between people and the place that has bred them” (2006, p. 43). Alice Walker, born in the south was a civil rights activist who confronted issues such as poverty, racism, and sexism. Alice Walker’s inspiration for “The Welcome Table” derived from her own experiences, living in Jackson Mississippi. “The Hypocrisy of religion as practiced by racist whites in the South was among the “mysteries” Alice examined in her writing (White, 2004, p. 160). Both writers opposition to the oppression of black people used their own views as the principal theme in their writings in an attempt to expose and influence change in racial discord in their communities.
In comparing the short stories, “The Welcome Table,” by Alice Walker and “Country Lovers,” by Nadine Gordimer, the theme of interracial intolerance is well defined by the content and literary devices, and how it contributes to the emotional connection of the readers. The subjective expression is evident in the tone of each narrative and guides the reader to a personal, understanding of the subject matter. Though the motivations of the two stories are different, the themes are similar. No matter the era the reader’s connection to the content these stories a relevant part of literature and history.
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