Societies have always had different classes, or subdivisions of economic and political standing. Ancient Greece was divided into the educated upper class, the middle working class, and slaves. Europe in the Middle Ages had an upper ruling class, and a poor working class. Africa in the past on hundred years had two classes, colonists and native Africans. Each class had a strict place in society and each person in that society was expected to conform to the behavior expected of their class. In these social structures, tension between classes start when a denomination of people believe that their niche in society is unjust. These racial tensions started in Africa between the two current classes; native Africans fought the Europeans colonists for control in every way that they could; literature being a widely used weapon. Two of these writings, Nadine Gordimere’s Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants and Zoe Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost In Cape Town, are written to show how European colonists define an African’s place in society. The characters lives and opinions are shaped and defined by racial segregation and the influence of European colonists.
South African culture is segregated by race, African tradition and way of life is looked down by English colonists because they consider it uncultured and barbaric. With English control came English law, and with English law came English prejudices. Native Africans are effectively forced to live in an English society where only second rate jobs are available, and where they are always considered inferior. Many native Africans are constantly reminded of this and cannot do anything about it.
The protagonist of You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town is a native South African women who has a child by a white man. The woman, who is only given the alias of Sally Smite, has a traditional western education which makes her rare among her people who have little if any formal education at all. She talks of her upcoming final examination (798) and her “educated voice” (800). Her lover, Michael, is white, highly educated, and “well brought up” (799). They have been seeing each other for two years when she finds out she is carrying his child. Although he offers to marry her, she denies him by saying that; “There are laws against that” (799). The relationship between them is illicit according to South African law. Although she loves the baby, she decides to have an abortion because the child would grow up in a segregated society with a white father and a black mother. It is not that simple for a black woman to have a child in a society that sees everything in color, with respect to one’s race. Society doesn’t permit her or rather racial segregation is prevalent, which forces her to abort her baby. The story starts with her on a public bus to meet Michael, who will drive her to the woman performing the procedure. It ends when she throws the illegal fetus, wrapped in newspaper, into a dustbin near a Fish and Chips shop. The purpose of the story is to show how unjustly a Native African is treated just because of her skin color and racial background.
Sally Smite believes that native Africans are unjustly thought of as inferior to the white colonists. One way of her fighting this injustice is through her relationship with Michael. She lives with all the other injustices of South African society and sees that they are wrong. One example of this is when she is sitting in the bus and mentions that the conductor is at the front of the bus collecting fares from white passengers (792). She observes that only white passengers can sit in the front of the bus. The reason Africans cannot sit in the front is purely racial segregation, but she feels she can do nothing about it. By involving herself in a relationship with Michael, the protagonist is fighting against racial pressures. She is forced to believe that an interracial relationship is wrong and will not be tolerated by a society that strongly believes integration among different people must never take place.
Sally Smite talks about the “immunity of love” protecting them from the “police with torches” (800). It is not uncommon for a man to love a woman. But in the story You Can’t Get Lost In Cape Town where an African woman loves a white man and bears his child, she must only hope that through all the segregation her love can overcome anything. In the year 1999, I cannot say that we have come such a long way from that because, even today when a couple of two different races are in love, we tend not to be colorblind and question how a relationship could ever exist at times.
Sally loves him, she says, “For two years I have loved Michael, and wanted to marry him” (799). A relationship that is already viewed unacceptable by society, becoming pregnant puts Sally in a precarious and risky situation where she can only turn to her parents for support. Unfortunately she doesn’t tell her parents about her situation and has to deal with the emotional and physical stresses on her own. The obvious reason to the reader why she doesn’t tell her parents about Michael is probably the fact that her parents might not approve of her interracial relationship. She shows us otherwise by saying that if her father had known about Michael, he would have been “creaking in a suit [with] the unconcealed pleasure in Michael’s successful academic career” (794). Therefore, she must have unwillingly known that their relationship was wrong in societies eyes and by continuing her relationship with Michael, she was in a sense revolting against racial segregation.
Characters are often shaped by societies in how they think and act. Specifically, in the readings You Can’t Get Lost In Cape Town and Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants, they illustrate racial segregation and the influence of European colonists shaping the characters’ lives. The story Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants, is a little different from the previous one in which we try to understand the concept racial segregation and colonization through the eyes of a white person (representing the European colonists), and not the victim (representing the African people).
The protagonist of Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants is a forty-nine year old white woman who works in a service station managing and keeping the books. Her only friend is a native African whom she calls Jack. The speaker, who never gives her name, lives alone and is an independent person. Her worst fear is dying, and lying in her apartment for weeks without anyone knowing that she is dead. At the service station she meets a man she later helps find an apartment. He leaves the apartment because he runs of money and then moves in with her and stays for awhile. Although she is living with him, she knows almost nothing about his past or who he is. This is a very questionable act she decided to do because from the very beginning she already had stereotypes toward the blacks which leads her to the uneasiness she feels around him. If Jack had been a white man, she wouldn’t have been so fearful of him unless there was good reason to be. She tried to mask her outward look towards another race from hers by trying to help Jack, and obviously over extending herself by letting him temporarily live with her. What she does find out from him are all lies. He tells her that he is thirty-seven years old, but later she finds through a slip of his tongue that he is twenty-five. The lies about his past include that he drove from Rhodesia. Jack points out that the tire treads on the man’s car would not have made it through the six hundred-mile trip from Rhodesia to South Africa (561). She becomes scared of the mysterious man who is living with her and thinks that he will kill her. He seemed to know about her fear and though it was funny. She says:
I can’t explain how finished, done for I felt, I only know that he had on his face
Some kittens one after the other in a bucket of water-just as I know it was coming
He would burst out laughing at me (565).
One day the man announces that he is leaving. When he is gone she is scared that he will come back, and it is only awhile that the woman starts to relax.
The protagonist in Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants grows up in a racist, segregated environment, and sees nothing wrong with the way Africans are treated. She herself believes that Africans are inferior to whites. When Jack talks too freely to her she feels she must “show him that he mustn’t get too free with a white person” (566). I don’t think she is comfortable or will ever get used to befriending a black man because her values and her personality have been shaped by a society where racial segregation has been prevalent. She forces herself to believe that her innate view about Jack brought about by society could have been wrong when she finds him as her sole confidant and friend. Jack is the one person she confides in and asks advice from because he is smart, and the woman recognizes this, although she will never come out and say it. She says, “[Jack] put his nose back in one of the newspapers he’s always reading whenever things are slack; I think he fancies himself quite the educated man . . .” (567). The woman refers to Jack as “the boy,” which implies that she compares the relationship of a white and black to that of an adult and a child. This is ironical because in their relationship Jack is more like an adult and the woman is like the child. When the woman is unsure of what she should do she asks Jack. In the end, it is Jack who gets rid of the man living with the woman. When the man come back looking for her, Jack tells him that she has moved to Rhodesia to live with her children (567). She attributes her primary threat to be the native Africans when the real threat has always been the white male. Even after she has relied and trusted a “native,” Jack, she still believes they are dangerous.
In both of these short stories, Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants, and You Can’t Get Lost In Cape Town, the main characters’ lives are shaped and defined by the racial segregation in South African society. In You Can’t Get Lost In Cape Town, the woman tries to deal with racial segregation by being involved in an interracial relationship. In a way she is not fighting racism, where as it is society who is fighting her because she can’t help who she loves. The woman’s plight presents how unjust life in South Africa could be for a black woman. In Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants the woman’s racism is sharply contrasted by her support from a black man. Her racist views are ludicrous in her position but she never questions them, just as many white South Africans never thought about their unfounded biases. Both these short stories were written to show the injustice and inequity in South African society.