Solitude, loneliness and the indifferent feelings of a white workaholic in an exotic land are apathetically yet emotionally charged, are presented by Gordimer in this short story. Dr. Fransz-Josef von Leinsdorf is a geologist with a void that he feels with his stones. His face is divided in half. The upper part, which I took to represent his knowledge and intellectuality is still vibrant, young and alive, unlike the lower part which in turn is metaphorical of his carnal needs is a dim and aging result of his knowledge taking up more of his life than one should allow it. His constant travelling and the unsettling life-style further show his inability to settle at one place with a certain someone.
The fact that the colored heroine of the story is not even given a name was not a surprise. A name gives one an identity, a privilege which can not be bestowed on a lower class working local cashier girl. Through out the entire story, we notice the author dealing with the female heroine as an object: “Her eyes went over everything in the flat although her body tried to conceal its senses of being out of place by remaining as still as possible, holding its contours in the chair offered her as a stranger’s coat is set aside and remains exactly as left until the owner takes it up to go.”(p. 1935). I don’t think that this is degrading or offensive, this is the Gordimer’s way of showing the uneasiness and the reluctance of allowing the development of feelings towards the lower class worker in a country where you, yourself is a stranger, constantly under the close inspection of the local authorities.
Even though the story takes place over a certain period of time, precisely how long the reader tends to figure out but with no certainty, events are thrown in with absolutely no warning sign. In one paragraph our heroine visits the apartment carrying the groceries and leaving with a box of chocolate, and in the next we find her making the bed after she has slept in it. This to me personally was a remarkable technique. It felt alive. This is how life is in my opinion, one day you meet a person and it seems that this encounter took place just yesterday, but you are finding yourself in the same bed with this person on the next. I would like to draw attention to the futility of language and conversation that I believe Gordimer wanted to point out. The heroine speaks English in its most simple and often grammatically incorrect way. But this does not stop the feelings and the mutual interest growth. Even the love-making act which is an act usually portrayed filled with passion and fore-warned by endless talk of, happens in muteness: “He made his way into her body without speaking; she made him welcome without a word.”(p.1937).
The melancholic and cold feeling that never leaves the reader I believe to have the purpose to foreshadow the end. This relationship is doomed from the start. The lies, the hiding and the guilt-trips as well as the inability to understand the traditions and customs of the locals by the foreign further hints at an ending that won’t place a smile on our face. There is no “bad” character; there is no scapegoat or anyone to take the blame. The characters are real, and in each of them a mixture of wrong and right equates to them being themselves. Their attempt to make things work although proven futile at the end, leave them not in a position to place blame but in the reality of acknowledging that the trial and the attempt is much more rewarding than the outcome. They tried, and they tried the best they could, it just didn’t happen, it ended. The humility that the heroine faces in the conclusion and the little aid that the Dr. provides with the hiring of the attorney is mere human interaction, nothing more and nothing less.
In conclusion, although racial, economic and class issues are brought with solid force to the reader, I find the style to be of extremely emotionally filled higher ranking since the reader finds him/herself not judging or taking sides but living with the characters throughout the entire story in notion that reality is never judgmental, it simply is the way it is, and we each cope with it the best way we can.