The Moment Before the Gun Went Off

“The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” by Nadine Gordimer tells the story of Marais Van der Vyver, how he accidently shot his “farmer boy” with an accidental charge gun and the aftermath of the incident. Although unintentionally, the protagonist feared others might have different thoughts on this sensitive incident and think otherwise. It is possible for the newspaper to repattern the information and make what actually happened seem like a murder case associated with racism as the farmer boy, Lucas is black, and the protagonist being a white man. The setting in “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” is crucial as it shows what might the protagonist thought of before decisions were made and how the events could be linked to the real world.

The story is set in the time when tension between races were high and anything associated with apartheid regime was sensitive. The protagonist is aware that his case could be used for political purpose and cause the tension to build up even more, “The papers at home will quote the story as it has appeared in the overseas press, and in the back-and-forth he and the black man will become those crudely-drawn figures on anti-apartheid banners.”(Gordimer, 1) So he stayed as silent as he could, knowing news would travel overseas and his face is going to be on the top line of newspapers. He probably doesn’t know what to do, he probably doesn’t know how to deal with this horrible thing he started that might get much worse, he probably was panicking like a kid, a dirty kid.

If one’s position and status is high enough, that attention given is able to push the person to do many amazing things, on the contrary, once the glory grows too big, it will feed on your humanity, crumb by crumb. The year that this event took place was not specified in the story, however, it is not hard to inference based on slips of information. The story roughly took place in 1992 because time setting is corelated with social setting and based on the events in social setting, the system of apartheid ended in 1994, and segregation was coming to an end in the story. In this time period, although African Americans were rioting, protesting for equal rights and overthrowing established rules, white people, especially white male were still dominant and held majority of power. With power comes attention and pressure, “Van der Vyver has a high barbed security fence round his farmhouse and garden.”

This quote clearly shows Van der Vyver’s social status and position in the farming business. In a small town, being a successful white male, makes the situation even harder for the protagonist. If this wasn’t the case and the protagonist is not always under a “spotlight” there would be no story to tell. Because of the fact that the protagonist is noticeable, he has to think of the consequences for his decisions, the description of this process is a major factor on the development of emotion and what makes the story better overall.

Police station, starting from my first few memories, has always been a place of justice, law, truth and order. The protagonist being put into this setting did not make an emotional impact on me, until I read the last line of the story “He was his son.” (Gordimer,4) This sentence is clearly an intentional plot twist, a choice by the author. She wanted a reaction, she wanted the readers to be confused, she wanted the readers to go back and reread, she wanted us to think. Shooting a black worker is bad but sleeping with a black woman, on the other hand, was the top crime a white male could achieve. Van der Vyver has to choose between “dignity” and humanity in front of the representation of honesty and justice, after all, the kid is his son.

The tears explained the painful process, “Van der Vyver wept. He sobbed, snot running onto his hands, like a dirty kid.” (Gordimer,2) His decision changed his life and the route of the story forever. He’s willing to throw away humanity and honesty for what he thinks guards his dignity. This shows society’s twisted sense of what’s right and wrong it also makes me wonder just why humans are so cruel to each other. Crumb. It is not certain if the story is based on real events or completely made up, however, the settings and backgrounds, if you take the time to explore, gives the story authenticity by drawing real world parallels. Connecting what might be fictional to the world, self, and others.

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