Comparing and Contrasting Nadine Gordimer's Narrative Situations

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Comparing and Contrasting Nadine Gordimer’s Narrative Situations

“Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them” (Vygotsky, 1896-1934). Words so completely surround humans that we rarely are fully aware of the extent to which they are used. Language is used to describe, express, and speculate. It is also, however, used to persuade and manipulate. Authors know this, and because they cannot play with their audience’s mind using speech, they use writing, and, more specifically, narrative situation. A good example of this is short story writer Nadine Gordimer who includes bizarrely alternating combinations of narration, perspective, and narrative level in nearly every one of her stories. Out of these, there are two that have been shaped by narrative situation in such an intellectually frightening manner that they would be a meaningless mass of words without it: “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight” and “A Journey”. “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight” is a haunting tale about an innocent small-town girl who falls into a relationship with an ominously mysterious foreigner, and gets killed when he, without her knowledge, uses her to bomb the plane she boards. Less horrifying but just as captivating, “A Journey” focuses on the different members of a family who have undergone character changes in order to adjust to their social surroundings. Narrative situation is vital to both these stories as it allows the reader to think about and eagerly await the painful epiphany of an ending while identifying with the characters to such an extent that they seem real. In “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight”, Nadine Gordimer uses a 3rd person figural and consonant narrative situation to induce trepidation, while in “A Journey”, she uses a combination of 1st person dissonant, and 3rd person figural and dissonant narrative situation to express the change that takes place in the characters over time, thus create a bildungsroman. In “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight”, Rad the terrorist’s sinister role is implied on every page by the narrator’s word choice. On the other hand, Vera, the innocent reflector, has been made relatable to; the perfect victim who blindly accepts everything without hesitation. Just like Vera, a typical girl, is easy for readers to relate to, and thus closer to the reader, Rad is alien because the lack of narration about him makes him impossible to identify with, as he seems so unfamiliar. In “A Journey”, Gordimer uses narrative situation to define the occurrences in the family’s past from the points of view of the father and son. By doing so, the changes in character and maturity level of the two can be seen over time. In both short stories, the narrative situations and the effects they create allow readers to discover the underlying themes in an enthralling manner.

Just like any other work of fiction, “Some Are Born to Sweet Delight” contains a protagonist and reflector, Vera, a 17-year-old girl who has the very human tendency, also known as a confirmation bias, to notice only evidence that supports her beliefs. By limiting the narration to Vera’s thoughts, actions, and beliefs, Gordimer makes sure that the reader’s sympathy resides with Vera, as he/she can see how and why Vera makes the decisions she does. From the first page, her unpredictability, childish stubbornness, and naivety are evident. After meeting and barely getting to know Rad, whom she finds awe-inspiring, she suddenly revolves her entire social life around him: “she could not go to the pub; she could not let him [Rad] know that was where she was going. The deceptions that did for parents were not for him. But the fact was there was no deception: she wasn’t going to the pub, she suddenly wasn’t going… she was in awe and ignorance of politics, nothing to do with her” (74). The first part of this passage elucidates that Vera is mercurial of decision, just like young children. This shows readers that she is gullible, manipulative, and thus, easy to take advantage of. The second part of the passage states that Vera reveres the foreign, and thus, being ignorant and curious, is very easy to lure into a trap, which is exactly what Rad does to her. The narrator allows readers to form instant opinions about Vera by accurately displaying her emotions and thoughts. However, these opinions are not harsh and antagonistic; the reader almost becomes Vera while reading the story as she is a clear and associative character. Additionally, the narration characterizes her with a tendency to convince herself of things. Multiple times throughout the story, Vera mentally manipulates Rad’s reactions and attitude towards her as proof that he is just as enamored with her as she is with him. An outsider, such as the reader, can plainly see that Rad is definitely not in love; rather, Vera is living in a world of make-believe. The first instance when this is seen is when Vera meets Rad’s friends. The narrator explains:

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Rad did have some friends, yes, young men like him, from his home. He and she encountered them on the street and instead of excusing himself and leaving her waiting obediently like one of those pet dogs tied up outside the supermarket, as he usually had done when he went over to speak to his friend, he took her with him and, as if remembering her presence after a minute or two of talk, interrupted himself: She’s Vera. Their greetings, the way they looked at her, after all, and she was happy. They made remarks in their own language she ...

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