?This short story, by Nadine Gordimer, overall, speaks on the deep-seethed racial tension that influenced the individuals in this story. In essence it is about a presumably white woman being mugged by an equally presumable black male (Gordimer is from South Africa and frequently wrote about racial tension). The tension in this story is so saturating that it even manages to conquer the language, imagery, and actions of the two people involved. The first paragraph reads, “It was a cool grey morning and the air was like smoke.
In that reversal of the elements that sometimes takes place, the grey, soft, muffled sky moved like the sea on a silent day. ” In the very first sentence it is established that there is a smoggy, perhaps suffocating quality in the air. Smoke is a hazardous, cancer causing gas that is also an agent of concealment; these attributes can also apply to the effects of apartheid. Like cancer, racial tension spread rampantly through South Africa and concealed a person’s character by his skin color. Even in the morning the “air was like smoke” as if to almost say, no matter how early you wake up racial tension is prevalent.
In the very next sentence, it is stated that a reversal of elements has taken place which foreshadows a reversal of sorts in the later part of the story in which the woman becomes a victim. As she walks by the man her concentration is directed towards the scent of pine needles that were formerly held in her hand. A thudding is heard and the man appears unexpectedly panting in her face. This sequence of events inspires another theme in the story—fear. A fear of the unknown is evident early in the story, if only subtly, and evolves into an overwhelming sense of dread.
As the woman first notices the red-capped figure in the distance, she inexplicably switches her “bag and parcel from one arm to the other”. This is a common defense mechanism for women fearing a mugging from a perceived source or to simply add a sense of security. Later, as she nears the figure on the path, she grabs “a little sheath of pine needles…and as she walked she ran them against her thumb. ” An innocuous action that seems to hold her attention until the visage of the man steals it away.
After passing the now weary, raggedy man, she realizes that the pine needles were no longer in her hand (she doesn’t know when this happened which would lead to the conclusion that she was transfixed on the man when the needles were dropped). The woman then decides to sniff her hand in order to remember what the needles smelled like in order to compare them to a similar scent from her childhood. The pine needles, which leave a residue on her fingers, leaves the woman with a need to wash them for, “Unless her hands were quite clean, she could not lose consciousness of them, they obtruded upon her.
” By being keen on washing her hands, she would no longer be wary of the figure in which she passed and therefore relinquish her caution. This sets up the next scene as just when the woman decides to let her mind linger on her hands, the man makes his move. “…and then he was there in front of her, so startling, so utterly unexpected, panting right into her face. He stood dead still and she stood dead still. Every vestige of control, of sense, of thought, went out of her as a room plunges into dark at the failure of power and she found herself whimpering like an idiot or a child. Animal sounds came out of her throat.
She gibbered. For a moment it was Fear itself that had her by the arms, the legs, the throat; not fear of the man, of any single menace he might present, but Fear, absolute, abstract. If the earth had opened up in fire at her feet, if a wild beast had opened its terrible mouth to receive her, she could not have been reduced to less than she was now. ” It is expressly stated that she did not fear the man, so why does Fear present itself only when he bounds to her? Such terror is realized when preconceived notions of class barriers are shattered unexpectedly and what’s to come next remains a mystery.
The language changes to reflect the horror that the woman experiences in this moment. She does not simply stand still but dead still, a simile is used to express the fleeting feelings of control, and animal (inhuman) sounds are produced from her throat. Fear also becomes personified by being made a proper noun and entangling her in its grip. Throughout the story the man is made to seem opposite of the woman. As the woman in the story is traveling along a path, she spots a figure (a “native”) with a red cap.
Upon reaching the man, by following the path, it is expressed that his trouser leg is torn off, revealing “the peculiarly dead, powdery black of cold” (the effects of the weather on his cracked skin); his eyes are also red and he smells of sweat. When the confrontation occurs, his depiction of something different from her becomes more pronounced. His foot is stated to be “…cracked from exposure until it looked like broken wood…”, his face is sullen, voice is deep and hoarse, and he has a pink injury on his skin. Such a distinct contrast with the woman is made to emphasize the cause of the tension.
After the woman escapes, she desperately runs from the scene in order to get back on the road. The language that follows gives a sense of one escaping a foreign world, “And she was out. She was on the road…. She could hear a faint hum, as of life…” Her once encompassing fear has now eased slightly and the cause seems to be her flight from the velds and brush. The setting of where the “native” resided and where the woman wants to go are also contrasts that make-up the difference between the two and only add to the foreignness of the encounter.
The last two paragraphs of the story are most interesting in that after the tussle, the woman decides, after some deliberation, that she would not tell anyone of what just happened. “Why did I fight, she thought suddenly. What did I fight for? Why didn’t I give him the money and let him go? ” Perhaps she felt pity for the man? He was obviously poor and tired with severe exposure to the elements “His red eyes, and the smell and those cracks in his feet, fissures, erosion.
” Perhaps her story would appear shady to the people she told, “She thought of the woman coming to the door, of the explanations, of the woman’s face, and the police. ” It is evident from her previous behavior that a mugging was in the realm of possibility, and from the man’s appearance it was also evident that such an action was not beneath him. The woman doesn’t tell anyone of her encounter because of the social difference between the two. At the end of the day, the woman can most likely replenish her lost items but, from the description of the man, his survival could have been at stake if he didn’t acquire assets or funds.
The is described walking down the road, “like an invalid”, because she was robbed and such an occurrence leaves a hollow feeling but she realizes that she must move on, signified by her picking the “blackjacks from her stockings. ” “Is There Nowhere Else Where We Can Meet? ” is a unique title, firstly in its use of ‘nowhere’ instead of ‘anywhere’ and secondly, that the meeting between the two characters in the story is an undesirable one because of the racial tension in South Africa. Had these two people met in a different country things might have been different.