In Collins, the principal of an experimentally liberal reformatory Nadine Gordimer presents a man who possesses a few temperate faults and several moderate virtues, who is extraordinary only in certain ways and in small degrees, who is somewhat given to introspection, and who is reasonably self-aware.Â Why, then, should his final realizationâ€”that he has not room enough in his caring for the whole worldâ€”why should this rather commonplace epiphany have â€œfilled him with desolation…stiffened him from head to foot with failure,â€ create a â€œmoment of knowledgeâ€ so agonizing that â€œhe did not know how he would live throughâ€ it?Â Our knowledge of Collins does not prepare us for it.
Perhaps our shock and bewilderment are meant to mirror Collinsâ€™s own; after all, we know of him only what he consciously knows of himself.Â There are, however, two cases in which the words of his inner dialogue give away more than he probably realizes.Â In the first of these instances he imagines his runaways living in a â€œcave of hunched faces painted with cosy fear by the light of a paraffintin fire…[a]troubled dreamlike existence of struggle and fear and horror,â€ and in the second he refers to his life as a struggle â€œto read the suffering faces of the nameless, the dispossessed whom God made it incumbent upon him that he should spend his life reading.â€Â These passages suggest that he sees himselfâ€”though he would almost certainly recoil from the thoughtâ€”as a Christ-like messenger to the Platonic cave (The Republic, Book VII) of south Africaâ€™s lowest caste.Â It is his task to lead boys away from the flickering fire, the â€œhovel of smoke,â€ the â€œhalf-discerned murk,â€ drawing like Socrates on â€œsome memory beneath their experience,â€ eventually accustoming them to the world lit by the sun of public and private order, if not that of philosophic truth.
But in Platoâ€™s analogy no one who has been led into the world of the sun ever returns (save against his will) to resume his old place in the world of the cave:Â more importantly, Christ, even a type of Christ, never fails in self-sacrificing charity to mankind.Â It is not surprising, when we consider the models in whose terms Collins sees the world, and against which he, albeit unconsciously, measures himself, that he should be crushed by a sudden perception of the face and extent of his failure, and should not even reflect on the fact that it is a failure common to all humanity.Â Nor is it surprising that Collins, so easily seduced by words as to forget reading them, should be so preternaturally irked by words, and especially by the contrast between their perennial promise of wholeness and their delivery of partial truths.Â The words in the newspapers have only belied him; the words in the core visions of Western culture, the words that shape and sustain Collinsâ€™s â€œpart of the sky,â€ have betrayed him to a â€œdesolationâ€ and a taste of â€œbitter juiceâ€ which are merely, terrifyingly, human.
A list of Nadine Gordimerâ€™s numerous international awards reveals her to be one of the most celebrated of the worldâ€™s writers in English:Â the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1973, for A Guest of Honour;Â Â the Booker Prize for Fiction, 1974, for The Conservationist;Â the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature, 1981; the Modern Language Association of America award, 1982; the Premio Malparte, 1985; her naming as an Officier de lâ€™Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1986; and her receipt of honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale universities.Â Gordimer published her first story at the age of fifteen, and since then she has written more than six novels and a dozen story collections.Â She has also contributed stories to anthologies worldwide.Â Born in Springs, South Africa, to Jewish emigrants from London, Gordimer has said she attained political awareness slowly, eventually condemning the countryâ€™s race laws she had been raised to accept.Â She is now widely considered to be one of the strongest voices of social conscience in South Africa.Â According to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, Gordimerâ€™s â€œenduring subjectâ€ is â€œthe consequences of apartheid on the daily lives of men and women, the distortions it produces in relationships among both blacks and whites.
A list of Nadine Gordimer‘s numerous international awards reveals her to be one of the most celebrated of the world’s writers in English: the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1973, for A Guest of Honour; the Booker Prize for Fiction, 1974, for The Conservationist; the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature, 1981; the Modern Language Association of America award, 1982; the Premio Malparte, 1985; her naming as an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1986; and her receipt of honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale universities.
Gordimer received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, “through her magnificent epic writing has—in the words of Alfred Nobel—been of very great benefit to humanity.”
Gordimer published her first story at the age of fifteen, and since then she has written more than six novels and a dozen story collections. She has also contributed stories to anthologies worldwide. Born in Springs, South Africa, to Jewish emigrants from London, Gordimer has said she attained political awareness slowly, eventually condemning the country’s race laws she had been raised to accept. She is now widely considered to be one of the strongest voices of social conscience in South Africa.
According to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, Gordimer’s “enduring subject” is “the consequences of apartheid on the daily lives of men and women, the distortions it produces in relationships among both blacks and whites.”
A â€œfound poemâ€ is a poem made of a group of words not originally intended as a poem, but distilled from its context and arranged effectively on the page using white space and enjambment.Â For example, the end of this story might be arranged this way:
of his wife, going about her business whilst he
worried, nine years
he worried, turned from
to this problem or that
if you search
one face you turn
Choose a segment of this story that seems especially vivid and significant.Â Experiment with arrangements on the page that seem most effective in appropriateness and/or tension between the content and the form. If another student has chosen the same passage as you have, compare your versions.
Imagine you are a reporter.Â The boy from the reformatory has been found by police and charged with the beating of the woman, and you are assigned the task of interviewing Collins as part of your preparation for writing the article.Â What would Collins tell you?Â What news article would you write?
To extend the reference to discrimination suggested in the response of the police to the attack on the lady, read or view one of the following texts and write a reader response journal about your impressions:Â Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season, Dreamspeaker, Of Mice and Men, Anne Frank:Â Diary of a Young Girl,Â â€œShooting an Elephantâ€ by George Orwell, or In the Heat of the Night.
Consider this description of Collins attempting to fall asleep:
He lay and the darkness came up to him, the darkness spread out to the edges of his being, the darkness washed away the edges of his being as the sea melts the edges of the sand.Â But just as it was about to smooth out his head and wash down the pinnacles of his features like a sandcastle, a return of consciousness rose within him and swept it away.Â (p. 159)
To what is falling asleep compared?Â What does the comparison suggest to us about falling asleep?Â do you find this extended metaphor appropriate?Â If not, what comparison would you make?
Both the old man in The Hobby and Collins in Another Part of the Sky have become dangerously absorbed in their work.Â The old man has clearly passed the point of being able to extract himself from the world of the railways; Collins may have been saved from a similar fate by the experience Gordimer describes in this short story.Â Write a couple of paragraphs describing how the old man might, upon learning of the boy’s death, have been as shaken as Collins is at the end of Another Part of the Sky,Â or describing how Collins might, as a widower enduring forced retirement, look back on his work and on his marriage if he had not had this experience of shattering self-recognition.