THE SOFT VOICE OF THE SERPENT By Nadine Gordimer
About the Writer • Nadine Gordimer was born
on November 20, 1923 into a privileged white South African family. • By the age of 9 she was writing, and she published her first story in a magazine when she was 15. • Her novels and short stories explore the effect of apartheid on the lives of South Africans.
• She is a South African novelist and short-
story writer whose major theme was exile and alienation. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. • Never an outstanding scholar, she attended the University of Witwatersrand for one year. In addition to writing, she lectured and taught at various schools in the United States during the 1960s and '70s.
Outline • A man who has lost his leg spends many
hours, while he is recuperating, in a garden. He sees a locust which has also lost a leg, but, of course, it can fly.
Discussion • Not very much happens in this story. The
focus is rather on the man and how he copes with having lost a leg. He is twentysix and has, in some way we do not know, lost his left leg. • The story starts as his wife wheels him for the first time into the garden. As the days pass, he starts to heal, emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically. His wife keeps him company every day.
• One day a locust flies past her head and she
jumps up, scattering her sewing things. She then goes to prepare tea. He, meanwhile, sees a locust, probably the same one, and starts to study it. • Soon he realises that it is trying very hard to walk but it has lost its leg. In excitement at finding ‘someone’ just like him, he calls his wife. Together they watch it. • The wife prods it gently and then flicks at it. It immediately flies away. • Both of them had forgotten that, of course, a locust is not exactly like a man; it has wings and it can fly.
The Title – The Soft Voice of the Serpent • The title refers to the
Garden of Eden, a place of beauty and perfection, but evil comes into the garden and everything is changed.
• The man has almost healed while sitting in
the garden, but the locust is a reminder that he cannot spend the rest of his life in the garden. • As the serpent spoilt Eden, so the locust spoils the man’s garden – he has to face the fact that he cannot fly • The man’s loss represents tragedy – We all have to face reality some time.
Emotional and psychological response • The man believes the garden will help him
to recover • The trees will have a soothing effect. • He will be protected in the garden. • He doesn’t yet want to face the ‘stare of the
world’. • He is very conscious of “the sunken place under the rug where his leg used to be”. • The garden will help him to come to an understanding of his condition – to accept that he is crippled
• He has a ‘system’ (plan) to remain calm –
avoid being depressed • He tries to keep busy by reading - not to think
about his missing leg • Evidence of recovery • A week or two later – he is able to stop reading and enjoy the garden • He looks calm – not agitated or upset • “the relaxed feeling of his mouth” • “In the upward lying palm of his hand”
• Incident of the locust • Hurt and unhappy
• Empathy - Identifies with the locust – knows
exactly how it feels • Excited – here is ‘someone’ who shares his position – “The two of us” • Irritable and angry – locust flies away – he has lost a “friend” – realises the he is crippled, but the locust is not – can still fly
Themes • Coping with reality • A person can cope and recover from personal
tragedy • For a human being the loss of a leg is permanent • Sorrow of tragedy relief of recovery • Empathy with locust
Figurative Language • “The firs part silkily as a child’s fine straight
hair” • Figure of Speech? • Simile
• Effect? • Suggests the softness of the
trees and how smooth they are
• “the face was curiously human”
• Figure of Speech? • Metaphor
• Effect? • The locust is like
an old man with his face almost appearing human
Sources • www.biography.com • www.essaymania.com • Studymate Study Guide