Chaos and Order from the Mind of Nadine Gordimer
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      Learning to Recognize Patterns
Maureen moves closer to flight each time she perceives the vague outline of patterns within the chaos, both the pattern of her own racist behavior and the pattern of disequilibrium in her relationships. Maureen achieves a small victory when July walks to her hut, rather than the reverse. As he approaches, she imagines hearing "him singing, way up in the bones of his skull," tunes he habitually hummed during "repetitive, rhythmical" work (JP 68). I speculate that she hears the bone-chilling squeal of emerging patterns, of turbulence intensifying as she repeats the daily cruelties of the past. For immediately, "her little triumph in getting him to come turned over inside her with a throb and showed the meanness of something hidden under a stone" (JP 68). July confronts her with fifteen years of distrust; she responds with the unforgivable accusation that he abandoned his town woman. Watching as July "shuddered in affront and temptation," Maureen must finally face her own collaboration with apartheid (JP 73).  During so many years of playing the "good madam," she overlooked the degrading realities of his life. She ignored the harsh facts that employment meant leaving his family behind, that her signature in his passbook proved collusion with the oppressive government, and that even now she viewed him as an inferior rather than her savior. 
Maureen's lesson is reinforced again when she accuses July of stealing small objects ­ her scissors, her knife-grinder, her "rubbish." She confronts him, "stampeded by a wild rush of need to destroy everything between them . . ." (JP 152). This time he responds in his own language; "she understood although she knew no word" (JP 152). The deliberate chaos of apartheid defies white or black vocabulary, defies all conventions of communication. Earlier Bam also "struggled hopelessly for words that were not phrases from back there, words that would make the truth that must be forming here, out of the blacks, out of themselves" (JP 127). In the nonlinear world, truth exceeds the capacity of factual statements. Only deep, intuitive knowledge can cross the color-bar. Like Maureen, readers of Gordimer's fiction approach the truth dynamically, We absorb the attempts made by each voice and observe the fumbling towards unity, but ultimately we approximate understanding of crimes against humanity only by extrapolating from our own dark complicity. Briggs and Peat confirm, "Complex systems ­ both chaotic and orderly ones ­ are ultimately unanalyzable, irreducible into parts, because the parts are constantly being folded into each other by iterations and feedback" (147). And yet I assert ­- and suspect that Nadine Gordimer would agree ­- that the centrifuge we call our soul can separate good from evil, no matter how chaotic the issue. 
       Consumed by the Chaos
Apartheid threatens to destroy the selfhood of both author and character. Gordimer chooses scientific language to name the universal search: "From a disintegrated consciousness, all seek wholeness in themselves and a reconnection with the voltage of social dynamism" (R&C 136). While Maureen panics, Gordimer relies on the gift of writing to maintain her selfhood: "Only in the prescient dimension of the imagination could I bring together what had been deliberately broken and fragmented; fit together the shapes of living experience, my own and that of others, without which a whole consciousness is not obtainable" (W&B 130-31). Lacking  such a creative outlet however, Maureen releases "all claims of responsibility" and thinks only of "lone survival" (JP 160). Chaos consumes her, evident in the graphic description of the helicopter's "distant chuddering as of air being packed in waves of resistance against its own density" (JP 157). I'm reminded of a cosmic black hole. Unable to face her true self, Maureen's highest instincts collapse with guilt so condensed that neither illuminating light from wisdom gained nor compassion for community can overcome the primitive urge to run. Her body thuds "with deafening vibration, invaded by a force pumping, jigging in its monstrous orgasm" as she makes her final choice (158). By allowing the force of chaos to consume her core humanity, she loses personal integrity and sinks to the lowest order. Maureen races from the hut, past the sound of her family, as "the sense of gravity wavers"  (160). 
Although scholars consider the ending ambiguous, I believe Gordimer intends double condemnation. She condemns the society that created apartheid, that created the necessity for this fantasy of horror. And she condemns Maureen ­- and all of us who flee or plead blindness. Consistently in interviews, Gordimer emphasizes the restoring of humanitarian order. When faced with overwhelming ethical dilemmas, Gordimer knows that "this doesn't mean that one can live saying, right, let chaos come. I will still, in my life and in my work, seek for some principle of transcendental order, which implies progression in human terms" (Gray 184). Whether Maureen runs to her death or to an airlift operation matters not at all. She cannot be saved now; she already relinquished control. By ignoring the human potential to be significant, by refusing to be the variable which could changes the order, Maureen sacrifices soul and selfhood. 
The painful interregnum offers opportunities for redirecting the turbulence of humanity. As Argyros concludes, "... if culture is, in fact, a chaotic system, then there is every reason to hope that slight perturbations issuing from individuals or small collectives can spread throughout the system, bringing it back into a state of chaotic harmony." (348-9). Through the body of her work, Gordimer shows us both the complexity of institutional racism and the potential for political change before the chaos overcomes the Maureen inside of each of us. Scholar Stephen Clingman accurately identifies: "Gordimer's has been a voice of conscience, of moral rigor, and of a clarified hope ­ the kind of hope that writing of brilliance can bring with it, no matter what kind of social distortions it is forced to survey" (1). Through July's People, Gordimer warned South Africa to reform by illustrating the worst scenario. But even within her cautionary tale, I glimpse the optimism ­- Maureen and July almost connected. For a brief moment, they fully saw and understood each other. Perhaps, as readers, when we face our own inevitable betrayal of humanity, our choice will be reparation and healing rather than flight. 
Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
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