Around the 50s and 60s racism and prejudice was nothing unusual. Though not everyone participated in it, they were affected by it in some way. The effects of racism in ‘Country Lovers’ and ‘The Gold Cadillac’ are different; in ‘The Gold Cadillac’ the victims are aware of what’s going on whereas in ‘Country Lovers’, Thebedi is quite ignorant of the way Paulus treats her. ‘The Gold Cadillac’ is written in first person making it far more intimate; it brings the reader closer to the events and the characters.
The fact that it’s written from Lois’ point of view makes the reader empathise even more because she’s only a child. You can almost feel what she’s going through. Also it has the added advantage that the feelings being evoked are true because children say it like it is, they wouldn’t be biased. On the other hand it might not make the reader very sympathetic as it is just one person’s view throughout the whole story. The advantage that ‘Country Lovers’ has is that it’s written in the third person, it makes the reader omniscient.
The reader knows what’s going on at all times but they can’t get as close to the characters as they might do with a first person narrative. Thebedi is not aware of the racist nature right in front of her in ‘Country Lovers’. Paulus bosses her around and she just “shook her head” to show that she obeys him like any loyal servant would – only it wasn’t just a servant-master relationship between the two. This could be because the scene is set in South Africa on a farm. Thebedi has “never seen” the towns or been anywhere accept the farm.
She isn’t exposed to the real world and how serious the issue of racism had got so she doesn’t realize the effects it has on her. ‘The Gold Cadillac’ however is set in Toledo, North USA where people are not as ignorant to racism as they might be if they lived on a farm; they may have seen it in others or amongst themselves. Lois is only a child and therefore not knowing what the term ‘racism’ means or what affects it has but when the family travel down South where the issue of racism is far worse than it is in the North, she has her first experience.
In ‘Country Lovers’, Nadine Gordimer starts off by describing how the black and white children on the farm used to play together before the “white children go away to school”. The adults on the farm had no problem with the different races mixing and playing together because they’re children and it would be hard to make them understand the concept of Racism or give them a reasonable answer as to why they couldn’t play with the children from the “kraal”. They aren’t really affected by the apartheid in that case.
All this shows that even though there were things like segregation going on, people put that fact behind them for their children’s sake. They wouldn’t let these things affect the happiness of a child. Ironically on the other hand, under the apartheid laws, ‘Bantu Education’ was enforced which deprived black children of a good education. After a young child reaches a certain age when he/she is old enough to join school, there was a difference. Although most of the black kids got “some sort of schooling”, it’s not up to the same standard of teaching as in the white schools.
It would be easy to tell that a black child who goes to school hardly learns anything, if you listen to the way they speak, their “childish vocabulary”. One reason why this law was introduced was the fear that if the black majority were educated, they could go further and get better jobs. They could then be smart enough to understand what was going on and what the white people were trying to do and beat them at their own game. If the black people did have an education that meant it could lead to wealth which could make the white minority feel threatened.
All or most of the white people were wealthy whereas the blacks lived in poverty in South Africa. They were this way because they didn’t have any opportunities. They hardly get any education, they work on farms all day and probably didn’t get paid that much. They haven’t got a direction in life and it is not even their fault. Hence they have no choice but to live in poverty. The white people had all the good jobs, they had a good education and opportunities when they left school, they could go university, do some further education and end up in qualified professions such as doctors, lawyers etc.
As whites were wealthy and the blacks lived in poverty, the only relationship that existed was that of a servant and master. When the children reach the age of about twelve or thirteen, they start calling their former playmates “missus and bassie” Shows that from a young age they learn what life is really like and even though they probably don’t understand it all, they still act like they are a loyal servant to the white people.
In ‘The Gold Cadillac’ you don’t realise that the writer is talking about racism and segregation in the USA until about halfway into the story. The fact that he explains this theme from a child’s point of view makes it easy for the reader to sympathise with the characters. It’s not often that you get to hear a child’s opinion on racism, an issue that they themselves don’t completely understand. When you start to see the themes emerging about halfway through the story, it becomes clearer that the Southern states were way more racist than the Northern states. Not much those folks hate more’n to see a northern Negro coming down here in a fine car” The word “hate” suggests a strong dislike towards the black people. The people are aware of racism and are sensible enough to stay out of the white people’s way. You could tell how serious racism was by things that happened, there was violence and most of it was in the South. “Those white folks down south’ll lynch you, son’s they look at you” Black people in 1950s America led a hard life because of racism. They would be killed in the streets just for being black.
No one deserves that. The story changes when the story moves down to the south, signs like “Whites Only, Coloured Not Allowed” start to appear. Suddenly Lois and her family have to be really careful of what they are doing so as not start up anything. “Not one word”, her dad warns her, if one of them said something wrong, it could be physically serious. Wilbert was stopped by the police, not because he was speeding but because he was a black man driving a gold Cadillac. They actually ask him “who’s car is this boy? the fact that they call him “boy” sort of deprives him of his dignity, they make themselves sound superior. It strikes a servant-master relationship. The police of course don’t believe him, “You’re a liar, and you stole this car. ” They assumed just because he’s black he can’t be wealthy enough to own a fine car. “Liar” and “stole” makes it sound like a black person can’t ever be honest. The police had to follow Wilbert until he got out of the state; they wanted the family out of their area simply because they were black.
The racism and prejudice revealed by Gordimer and Taylor evoke different feelings in the reader as in ‘The Gold Cadillac’ it seems more harsh perhaps because the reader is seeing it through the eyes of a child and in ‘Country Lovers’ the reader is more distant and sees everything as it is without having a personal connection to the story. Both however do make us sympathise with the way of life of these people and makes us think about issues like racism and prejudice that is always around and though we may not be taking part, it is still something that affects us in a way that may make us look at things in a different light.