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What do these stories tell us about being black in Southern Africa at this time? What techniques do the authors use to convey their ideas to us?
Both of the stories studied, ‘ Six feet of the country’ by Nadine Gordimer and ‘ No witchcraft for sale’ by Doris Lessing, contain similar views about being black during this time, including the racial tension that existed between black and white people. This tension also caused difficulties in the relationships held between master and servant.
The opinion of the inferiority of black servants and black people in general is also addressed in both of the stories.
The inferiority of black people during this time is a big issue that is addressed in these stories. In ‘ No witchcraft for sale’ one of the first instances showing black inferiority was when Teddy, only six years old, showed disrespect towards Gideon’s youngest son shouting, “piccanin,” at him and racing around him on his scooter, intimidating him, then excusing his actions stating that;
” He’s only a black boy.
Therefore implying that the boy was inferior and unimportant to him because he was black. This created a barrier in the normally trusting relationship that Teddy and Gideon shared, forcing Gideon to distance himself from the boy becoming for the first time in the story as black and white,. Teddy also changed and realised superiority over Gideon;
” If he came into the kitchen to ask for something, it was in the way a white man uses towards a servant, expecting to be obeyed.
This concept of blacks being inferior was reinforced in ‘ Six feet of the country’ when Petrus and his father were sent the wrong body to be buried, none of the authorities were able to help even when the white master tried to gain information about where Petrus’s brothers body was. He had the impression that the authorities didn’t care;
” It was as if at any moment they might conduct me into their mortuary and say, ‘ There! Lift up the sheets; look for him – your poultry boy’s brother. There are so many black faces – surely one will do?’ “
Also highlighted in this story is the existence of racial tension, this sentence describes it indisputably;
” Guns under the white men’s pillows and the burglar bars on the white men’s windows. They mean those strange moments on city pavements when a black man won’t stand aside for a white man.”
The expectance of a black man to stand aside for a white man shows the accepted inferiority of black people at this time, although it also depicts the tension caused by the black people in the city refusing to be inferior any longer.
Racial tension was also a factor in the difficulties that arose between Gideon the servant and Mr and Mrs Farquar when the white scientist came from the city with his preconceived notions that he wouldn’t find anything, to ask for the root that saved Teddy’s eyesight when a poisonous snake spat in his face. The Farquars, who were normally very fond of Gideon even allowing him to live in the compound with his family instead of going home to his kraal like most black servants, still favoured the white scientist over Gideon. They didn’t understand why he would not tell them of the cure, thinking that he was just being unreasonable;
” They went on persuading and arguing, with all the force of their exasperation.”
Gideon felt betrayed by the Farquars asserting their authority over him, showing their superiority over him because the scientist was there, and, because this was his knowledge, black knowledge;
” He could not believe his old friends could so betray him.”
Gideon appeared to give in to their persuading, however, instead of taking the Farquars and the scientist the short ten-minute journey to find the root, he took them a tortuous six miles from the house in the blistering heat Before passing a handful of flowers to the scientist;
” He walked them through the bush along unknown paths for two hours. In that melting destroying heat.”
Gideon was punishing them for betraying him, while they felt angry and the scientist thought that he was being proved right, that the medicines didn’t exist, which was what he was supposed to think;
” The magical drug would remain where it was, unknown and useless except for the tiny scattering of Africans who had the knowledge.”
In ‘Six feet of the country’, Lerice and her husband, like the Farquars, display and informality with their servants that in the midst of Apartheid would have been extremely unusual. They often cared for them when they were ill, however when Petrus’s brother travelled the hundreds of miles from Rhodesia, without the relevant permit, to find work, the servants were afraid to inform Lerice and her husband, causing Lerice to feel offended and hurt.
Differing values are another idea presented to us by these stories, including the significance of burying Petrus’s brother because the land that he was buried in would be the only thing that really belonged to him and couldn’t be taken away. Gideons cures are also the only thing that truly belongs to the black medicine man and not the white doctors, therefore Gideon being stubborn and not revealing the medicine, is really just preserving a piece of the native culture.
The authors use various techniques to convey their ideas to us; both use language to communicate the inferiority of the black servants calling them ‘boy’ no matter what age they are, quite literally addressing them as junior to or lower than the whites and then in contrast to this the black servants call the white men ‘baas’, therefore enhancing the superiority of them. Descriptive language is also used to emphasize certain points in the stories. In ‘Six feet of the country’ the funeral procession is depicted as being peculiarly suited to the two donkeys pulling the cart, describing them as having an air of submissiveness and as being downcast.
This is particularly effective in communicating the mood of the servants not just at the time of the funeral but in general at the time of Apartheid. This also shows how dignified the servants were, although they were extremely poor they still managed to give their dead a formal funeral. Doris Lessing presented the themes of racial tension and difficulties in a normally pleasant relationship between master and servant. The tension was brought on by the Farquars themselves, describing the scientist as the “Big doctor from the big city,” adopting a racist attitude on account of the scientist.
To be black in Southern Africa at this time would mean being a second class person to be inferior to white people and would spend their lives serving white people. According to the authorities in ‘Six feet of the country’ a black person living in South Africa would have no identity. I believe that the tension illustrated in both of these stories was caused by a lack of understanding the white people had of the black culture and traditions, I also believe that Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer have effectively conveyed the themes that I have highlighted, racial tension, difficult relationships or relationship barriers and differing values with the use of language, the way they presented the characters and the presentation of the themes.
The title ‘No witchcraft for sale’ was used because the black witchcraft was something that Gideon possessed that the white man did not, this is very similar to ‘Six feet of the country’ as the six feet represent the land that Petrus’s brother was buried in, it would be all that he owned that couldn’t be taken from him.
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