It is extremely important when writing a story to have a noticeable theme. A theme is something that portrays what the real meaning of the story is, and the message that the author is trying to get across. According to our text, “theme in a story is a representation of the idea behind the story” (Clugston, 2010). Without a theme in a story, it would just be words written without any real goal in mind. A good theme in a story can jump out and grab the reader and keep them engaged.
Such a theme is present in “Country Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer. The theme in this story is that of the boundaries of racism. This particular theme is a much visited and powerful theme in literature, but few have done it as well as Nadine Gordimer has in this piece. The plot of the story itself actually helps us to identify the theme in this story of an interracial love affair. A rich white boy, Paulus, forms a childhood relationship with Thebedi, the black daughter of a man hired to work on Paulus’ father’s farm.
The two youngsters play together as children, and as they get older begin a love affair which continues all the way into their early adult years. Because of the racial differences of the two lovers, their love affair must be kept a secret, never to be spoken of or observed by others. The fact that their friendship is even frowned upon shows us that racism builds walls in our lives that are never supposed to be climbed or broken down. Later in the story, after the two socially forbidden lovers had been on a break from their affair, Paulus discovers that Thebedi has born a child from their past love.
Due to the social restrictions and boundaries put on them because of the colors of their skin, Paulus murders his child so that nobody can ever find out about the past love that he once shared with Thebedi. The idea that others may find out that he had fathered a biracial child was so horrible to Paulus because of the racial boundaries and walls that had been built up in South Africa for many years previous to the time that “Country Lovers” is meant to have taken place.
Along with the plot in “Country Lovers”, the setting plays a very large role in helping us to identify the theme of the boundaries of racism. The setting for this story is a farm in South Africa in the 1900’s. More specifically, Gordimer set the story in mainly three locations: the village where Thebedi lives, the riverbed where the two lovers meet up, and the farmhouse of Paulus. In the story we read about Thebedi only ever going to the Paulus’ farmhouse late at night on the weekends that his parents have left him alone.
This is because of the barriers that have been erected on the basis of racial boundaries. If the young black girl was seen being taken as a guest in the home of a rich farm owner, the white family would be strongly criticized in the community as South Africa had a legal ban on interracial marriages starting in 1949 (Bruton, 2013). Now, Paulus and Thebedi were only engaging in sexual acts, but that would still be punishable by society if not by law. The riverbed where the two lovers meet is a space where they know that no eyes will be on them, so that they can be together.
By having to meet in private in an area such as this riverbed, Paulus and Thebedi are showing us that the boundaries of racism in South Africa at this time would not let them even be friends, let alone lovers. Both the setting and the plot in “Country Lovers” affect the narrative theme in very basic ways. The setting, South Africa in the 1900’s, guides the narrative theme because race was a huge issue in South Africa at that time. It would be consider socially taboo to engage in an interracial friendship, let alone an interracial sexual relationship during that time in South Africa.
The plot in this story of love and race allows the reader to get a better idea of just how dangerous it was for the two young lovers to being taking on such a relationship. With every paragraph, and every single sentence, we can feel the stakes getting higher and higher due to the racial borders that have been set by South African society. When we get to the point of Paulus finding out about Thebedi’s secret child, we just know that Paulus’ life as he knows it will be at an end if anyone is to find out that this biracial love child carries his blood.
Nadine Gordimer did a wonderful job painting a clear picture of how racism built up walls and created boundaries socially in South Africa. Her use of setting and plot help us greatly to understand that those racial boundaries can concur even the most passionate of loves between man and woman. Even more, the fear of anyone finding out about a man’s escape from those boundaries can even concur the natural love that a man has for his own child. Racial boundaries are everywhere, and touch everything. Gordimer has done a fantastic job of showing us that by using it as her theme in “Country Lovers”.