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‘Novelists and short-story writers have a less or more sympathetic interest in the contradictions of human behaviour.’
In what ways, and by what means, are such contradictions presented in works you have read?
Contradictions of human behaviour are a part of human nature. Authors perceive this phenomena and choose to develop the contradictions in their characters, by showing the differences in how a character interacts with different people. The contradictions serve to illustrate of how a character does not play a role that he or she is expected to play. In the two novels “July’s People” by Nadine Gordimer and “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert the contradictions are evident in for example July’s contrasting attitudes, Maureen’s transformation and Emma’s contradictory actions.
A character’s persona is created by the way that he or she responds to another character. July is introduced in the beginning of the novel as being one of the many black servants that have waited on their white superiors. They have just arrived at July’s village which changes the circumstances and Bam and Maureen do not know how they should act. He is their servant and has been for the past fifteen years, yet he has changed roles to their host who is quite unwilling to let go of his newfound power.
For example, July takes the keys of the bakkie and without asking takes it around to get supplies from stores but he also learns how to drive it. It would not mind Maureen and Bam so much if July had asked them, recognizing their possession over the bakkie. Because the bakkie is one of their only possessions at the village, they feel it is important to reinforce that it is theirs. At one point Bam feels it necessary to ask July “Is it yours July?” to make sure he understands that the real owners of the bakkie is actually him and Maureen.
Moreover, prior to their refuge in July’s village, the Smales has only known the obedient side of July. However, the way that he bosses around his mother and his wife shows the authoritative side. The life in the village has been that the men are gone to the towns to earn money for them, thus while the men are gone leading a matriarchal family structure. When the men are home, however, they tend to nag about the decisions the man has made, but still accepts them. For instance, July’s mother keeps on insisting that the “white people will bring trouble” while July firmly states that this will not be the case and that they will be staying with them.
It is not only July that acts differently towards the others. Towards her husband Emma Bovary appears to be a loving housewife, though outside her marriage she is adulterous. She tries desperately to be of the former, though she gets bored of Charles who is not the man that she has conjured up taking into consideration the romance novels that she has read in her childhood. Therefore she goes and tries to find someone who will fulfil her needs. However she is fully aware of the fact that the relationship with Rodolphe and Leon are not what she has dreamed of either. Though she is naï¿½ve enough to give up everything for Rodolphe, seeing as she wants to elope with him. Even during the affair with Rodolphe, Emma seems to Charles as the most loving wife he could have. Though it is not until the relationship with Rodolphe failed and having received a letter from her father, that she beings to repent and tries in desperation to turn to God and become a faithful wife not only on the outside but also in her inner feelings.
The two female protagonists have some masculine features. Maureen, not so much at the beginning of the novel, but as it progresses her masculinity becomes more apparent in her efforts to find a place for herself in the village. She is also deprived of the comforts that she is used to in Johannesburg, even things for basic sanitation which disgusts Bam who no longer see her as attractive as he had seen her back home, even comparing her neck to his father’s.
Moreover, without the routine of their married life, they find it difficult to continue their relationship as man and wife. When Maureen follows the black women to the fields one day, she is told soon after not to work by July, saying that the work the black women do are not fit for a white woman. This differentiates Maureen from the other women in the village, making her feel uncomfortable. Though it is clear that she does not have the same status as a man, as July does not treat her with as much respect as he would have done at home, as he yells at her in his own language, like he would do to one of his own women. Therefore she is confused by how she should act towards July and when she enters his women-free hut she must convince herself that she is different because “their relationship had been a working relationship.”
Emma, on the other hand, is dominant in nature. Dominance being a masculine feature. She has admitted defeat over that she is a woman and therefore will not be acceptable to follow her dreams but she bosses around Charles in a way that she may be seen to be living off his life. For instance she persuades him to operate on Hippolyte’s leg. If it wouldn’t have been for her, he would not have attempted such a thing and Hippolyte may have kept his leg. Another example of her dominance in the marriage is when they are at the ball, Emma tells Charles not to dance as he will make a fool out of himself with his clumsiness. However, Emma has less claim to be at the ball as she is only a peasant’s daughter while Charles is at least middle class. Furthermore she dreams of belonging to the upper class, even though she knows that she will never fit into the picture as she is after all married to Charles.
In conclusion, the authors develop the contradictions and incorporate them when developing a character. It is evident that people will have different reactions and emotions concerning various people which may contradict some of their actions or role in society. July shows a different side to himself confusing Maureen. Through this and other factors, she develops herself into a more masculine figure who becomes more independent of her family, symbolized by her crossing of the river at the end of the novel, while Emma is shown to be stuck in her situation and the only way out is concluded to be death.