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Race Literature Comparison: Nadine Gordimer and Patricia Smith Research Paper


“Country Lovers” and “What It’s like to be a Black Girl” are literature pieces, which focus on social issues within the society. These issues include racism, slavery, social struggles, prejudice, gender, and freedom from social injustices, which result from inequalities within the society. This paper will give a detailed evaluation of the poem, “What It’s like to be a Black Girl,” by Patricia, and the short story, “Country Lovers,” by Nadine. The paper will examine the form, content and style applied by the authors of these works.

The two masterpieces act as a clear indication that every society struggles with its identity. This is illustrated by the experiences of the characters featured in these works. The members of the society seek to identify with what they see in a person. This gives an account of why the two authors take time in their work, to address the issue of race and culture. It is clear that racism is an ideology that is based on the complexities that face every society fighting with acceptance, and social differences that exist among its members (Clugston, 2010).

A comparison and a Contrast in “Country Lovers” and “What It’s like to be a Black Girl”

The “Country Lovers” is a short story, which critically examines love that is threatened by racism in a colonial society. Here, we find a society that is fighting with the challenge of managing the difference among its races; that is, the whites and the blacks. It is mysterious to see how the story manages to bring out the issue of racism among its characters. Each race struggles with superiority problems, but it is clear that the differences did not exist from the onset. This is demonstrated from the quote that,

….farm children played together when they are small; but once the white children go away to school, they soon didn’t play together anymore.”

This even raises the question as to whether it is the school that induces the concept of social hierarchy. It is clear from the story that racial segregation is within the education system, because the white children go to different schools from the African children. It is also clear that the schools for the Africans, who are regarded as blacks, do not offer quality education because the black children have a childish vocabulary, while that of their white counterparts is described as superfluous (Shaffer & O’Donnell, 2011).

“What it’s like to be a Black Girl,” is a poem that brings out the issue of racism in America. It takes the form of a narrative, and the author shares the tale of a young black girl; specifically on what she goes through as she transits to womanhood. Similarly, in the “Country lovers,” racism is seen in the society. It is clear that being a black girl or a black woman is not appreciated by the larger society (Hughes, 2003).

The transition to womanhood is marked by biological changes in her body – the poet refers to this as the period “when she feels she is not complete.” The poem, “What it’s Like To Be a Black Girl,” depicts a racially abusive society, which does not accept the conditions of the black girl. This subjects her to awkward feelings, and she only hopes for something better.

The poem shares the girl’s desires to explore what it entails to be a black woman. She only wants to be acceptable by the society. This is symbolized by the food coloring in her eyes. Racism is so dominant in the society – this includes racial fighting and slurs in the music. This only explains how hard it is to be a black girl. She is determined to become a black woman, but this is extremely hard because she cannot be accepted due to her hair type, skin color, and her test of music (Clugston, 2010).

The way the young black girl tries to manage her changed body is very clear; she is described as having “a child-like mentality.” She only imagines of having a gown, because it makes her change to womanhood. She thinks about having a man who reaches her and curves around his fingers. This is a natural thing that explains that, even though she is black, she experiences what every girl does. This poem shares the odd feeling that women of the past age went through. Upon joining womanhood, the black girl feels like she has “finished,” as there has been a lot of biological and psychological change that has occurred in her (Shaffer & O’Donnell, 2011).

A close comparison of “Country Lovers” and “What it’s like to be a Black Girl” indicates that the two works focus on the psyche of women, who are weighed down by the public expectations regarding their culture. These views take a negative approach, although they play a fundamental role in influencing the self esteem of these characters. It is clear that both characters are prejudiced by the members of the society, due to their racial affiliations. This represents a misconception and a distortion of the mind of the general society, due to racial differences. In both cases, the characters are from different cultures, who perceive themselves as different from their own culture, due to the racism and cultural differences that exist within their society. This makes these two pieces of work more alike; particularly due to the issues they address (Shaffer & O’Donnell, 2011).

The poem, “What It’s like to be a Black Girl,” gives the perception of a black girl, who is experiencing racism and discrimination in a gender based and racial society. She is pressed between a rock and a hard ground, as she struggles with her own body changes, which she is attempting to embrace. She is shy of what she is, specifically, her background and her physical appearance. This places her at a social dilemma of wanting to be someone who will be accepted by the society or doing what she desires (Clugston, 2010).

The “Country Lovers” and “What It’s like to be a Black Girl” are similar in the sense that they present two different societies that are transforming, and they go through issues that are tied around their social cultural values. The black girl represents a society that is changing. This is symbolically represented by her body, and is evident from the excerpt, ‘…..like your edges are wild, like there’s something, everything, wrong.’ This gives the image of a lady who experiences her body transiting from girlhood to womanhood. It is hard for her to imagine that the society should change, and all she desires it to change to something that is appreciated by the society. It is clear that this is still the case in “Country Lovers,” where, when the kids are young, they play together, but once they start going to school, they change and stop playing together (Segal, 2001).

Although the two works address more or less the same issue, it is critical to note how these issues are brought about. “Country Lovers” shows how children are brought up from being the same to being different in so many ways. Here, the main character is left wondering why the kids of the white stop playing with them once they go to school. This is driven further when we see the level of racism in the education system. The Africans are given low quality education, while their white counterparts get quality education. These are the social injustices that are associated with racism in these societies.

In both works, there is discrimination. The main discrimination in both cases is racial. The discrimination is based on the complexity of the individuals involved. In the case of ‘County lovers,’ Thebedi is referred to as “the black girl,” and she is described as dark faced and having dark eyes. On the other hand, the farmer’s son, Paulus, is referred to as the “white young man.” This gives an account of what racism is, within their society (Hughes, 2003).

In the poem, “What It’s like to be a Black Girl,” the growth of the girl’s breasts and her pubic development, causes her to be aroused, and this makes her quite uncomfortable with her body. This indicates the hard changes she is going through, yet the society is not ready to accept her. This represents a stereotype mentality in the society, which discourages people from embracing members of other races. Instead, these stereotypes develop discriminatory practices like the slung, which is used against members of different races (Clugston, 2010).

The “Country Lovers” shares a love experience between a black girl and a white boy. It is clear that the black girl is a daughter of an African employee in a farm of a white man. The two spend time together till they become acquainted with each another, therefore, causing their emotions to build up. It is clear that these kids are innocent. They know no race and they appreciate one another, but this does not go well with the members of the society, which is evident from the quote, ‘…the trouble was Paulus Eysendyck did not seem to realize that Thebedi was now one of the crowns of firm children…. recognized in her sister’s old clothes’. It is also clear that, although the white boy loves the black girl, the fact that she is a farm child is enough reason to disallow Paulus from having her. The black girl is even described as being a farm child, and the fact that the dress she puts on was given to her by Paulus’ sister should not deceive Paulus.

The two works, “Country Lovers” and “What It’s like to be a Black Girl,” are similar in the sense that the authors attempt to recount their stories through cultural issues, race and the many social challenges that are intertwined. It is clear that there are challenges that one encounters before changing the society, and this is exactly what the main characters go through. In the poem, the lady struggles to gain acceptance as a member of the Caucasian race. The biological changes in the black girl are a true representation of societal change. Although we may not like it, we cannot resist it. She thus endures all the challenges, so that she can gain acceptance from the society.

It is clear that the women suffer during their youthful days, after going through discrimination. The authors manage to showcase feelings, on what it is like to go through racial discrimination, and a reader cannot go without identifying these feelings in the characters. It is in the story, “Country Lovers”, where we see a restrictive culture that hampers the freedom of the characters. The characters are more concerned with the reaction of the society than their own welfare. They, therefore, ensure that their relationship is secretive, due the dangers of such relationships (Hughes, 2003; Snodgrass, 2009). “Country Lovers” condemns the government and the society, for promoting the apartheid regime. It is clear that the laws are based on race, and that is why Paulus and Thebedi experience a lot of hardships in sustaining a relationship.

They struggle with social pressure from the society, and this is illustrated when Thebedi gets a child with Paulus. Her community accepts this change, but the challenge is at Paulus’ community. Paulus goes to the extent of poisoning his own baby; this illustrates how much his community is reluctant to embrace change. This can be related with the struggles of the girl in the poem. Even after struggling with her body changes, from being a girl to a woman, her society is not ready to accept her. It is clear that the two authors use their work to illustrate how people struggle with their cultures and social life, and how it is difficult to bring about change in the society, because that change must begin with an individual (Clugston, 2010).

The two works are similar because they revolve around love. “Country Lovers” is based on a love affair between an African girl and a white Africana boy, who grew from childhood friends to become lovers. However, the laws of the land forbid interracial marriages, and this makes it very difficult for them to continue with their relationship. After the black girl gets a child, the white boyfriend poisons the child with the intention of covering up their relationship. He also did it because he feared prosecution and discrimination by his community. Also, the poem revolves around a love circle, because the black girl is concerned with how soon she will transform to a woman. She imagines having a white gown and being held by a man. To her, this is a form of acceptance by the society, and that is what she needs most. However, even upon her transition to womanhood, the society fails to embrace her (Segal, 2001; Alvesson, 2002).


It is clear that the society struggles with issues of racial discrimination. The authors of these works have managed to bring out the issue of racial discrimination in their work; in a successful manner that one is left wondering how possible this can be. Although the poem and the short story are based on different social cultures, they raise the same themes and address them in equal measures. Both Nadine Gordimer’s “Country Lovers,” and Patricia Smith’s “What it’s like to be a Black Girl,” have managed to address the problems associated with racism. The authors have managed to express their feelings, on what causes racism, and why we should all join hands and positively change our society, by embracing one another, regardless of our complexity. The hardship that the characters in both cases went through is unjustified, and they did not choose what to look like and where to be.


Alvesson, M. (2002). Understanding Culture. New York, NY: Sage Publication.

Clugston, W. (2010). Country Lovers, Nadine Gordimer. New York, NY: Journey Publications.

Hughes, L. (2003). The Collected Works of Langston Hunges: The Translations Federico. New York, NY: Dellita Martin Publication.

Segal, M. (2001). Creativity and Personality Type: Tools for Understanding and Inspiring the Many Voices of Creativity. New York, NY: Toles Publications.

Shaffer, B., & O’Donnell, P. (2011). The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction: Volume 1. Washington, DC: David Madden Publication.

Snodgrass, M. (2009). Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature. New York, NY: Sage Publication.

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