The basic objective of the thesis is to undertake a study of a limited number of novels by Nadine Gordimer. The text corpus illustrates the important nexus Gordimer establishes between the themes of family and social transformation in all her fiction. The examination raises the possibility that the presentation of the leitmotif of family as a continuum in the narratives is an aspect of the literature that establishes a rapport with an established international readership.
The study focuses on a selection of texts that are chronologically and thematically representative of three significant eras of historical and social change in contemporary South Africa. Two of the books under examination are from the apartheid era, two belong to the period of transition, or interregnum, while a further two fall under the heading of recent 'post-apartheid' narratives. The works are representative of the themes forming the central concern of the enquiry. At the same time, they illustrate the significance of the two 'histories' that are interwoven in the fiction and inseparable from the narratives—what eminent Gordimer researcher Stephen Clingman refers to as 'history from the inside'.'1
The introductory chapter provides a frill statement of the aims and methodology of the thesis and raises sociological implications of the nexus between family and social transformation underpinning Gordimer's writing. A close link between the two strands of my enquiry is proposed through an analysis of the German reception of the subject texts and the discussion of parallels that can be drawn with the fiction of some of Gordimer's prominent German contemporaries.
The leitmotif of family is then investigated in the major divisions of the thesis, chapters 2, 3 and 4. The thesis charts and evaluates the development of the themes of family and social transformation over a significant number of years, from 1966-2001, through the method of close contextualized reading informed by historical context. The existence of the thematic continuum I propose is established.
Conclusions drawn from the study are presented in chapter 5. Most previous Gordimer scholarship has dealt with her characters in the context of gender studies, or with regard to their individual roles in society. The fact that each protagonist is firmly positioned within some form of identifiable family in the narratives has been almost entirely overlooked. My thesis demonstrates the significance of Gordimer's family placement and hierarchization 'polities', given that it is intrinsic to the author's major theme of social transformation in her own country. It is further shown that Gordimer's constant interrogation of the process of change transcends the explicitly South African milieu of her fiction.
1Clingman uses this expression in his book The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside (1986) and again in his introduction to The Essential Gesture (1988). He reiterates the term "history from the inside" in his 1998 essay 'A Writing Life'. (In A Writing Life:Celebrating Nadine Gordimer. Ed. A. W.OIiphant, 1998.)