July’s People is a story of a white family who experience life as black people would in South Africa at the time. They leave their home and their jobs in the United States and follow their servant, July, to live in an African tribe. The whole time that they are living in Africa they depend on July for survival yet they still treat him as a servant. July wishes that he would be treated more as an equal but besides that he does not mind being their servant as long as he gets paid. The reversal of roles, in this book, does not really change people. It is as though they know where they stand with each other and that could never change. The Smales would always be above July, who would always be destined to be their servant no matter how much their lives depended on him.
In the United States the Smales were probably a little more well off than an average family. The father worked as an architect and made good money, that is evident because they can afford a servant. They decide to leave their home and to move to a new and unfamiliar place. July leads them to his tribe in Africa. The change occurs right there, to the Smales United States is home but to July it is a foreign place, whereas Africa is where July feels at home and the Smales feel like they are on another planet. Being strangers to this new place Smales depend on July for survival. Their inability to
communicate with the natives and the fact that they are the only whites in a tribe complicates things. They depend on July to get tools, find shelter, and get food among other things. At the same time they don’t trust him. They are always suspecting that he is stealing from them, they get upset when he takes the truck with out their permission, they feel like he is trying to cheat them in some way.
The Smales were never thought of as being part of the tribe, they stood out, not only because they were white but also because they came from a different culture. July remains their servant through out the whole book. Neither of them, July nor the Smales, attempted becoming good friends and working together through the hardships of war. July demands money for everything he does and the Smales expect for him to take care of things.
In this book the author, Nadine Gordimer, is showing us how even when you put different people together, and force them to live in the same conditions, that won’t necessarily make these people equal. How these white people came into their village and thought of them as servants. But the other half of the problem is that these natives allowed for such treatment by excepting money for their deeds. I think this symbolizes the situation in South Africa at the time, by showing how easily these natives could be pushed around. The Smales represent the whites that moved to Africa and enslaved blacks. And July represents the blacks that allowed the whites to take advantage of them in their own town.