A Chip of Glass Ruby by Nadine Gordimer

A Chip of Glass Ruby - Nadine GordimerIn A Chip of Glass Ruby by Nadine Gordimer we have the theme of sacrifice, prejudice, selfishness, justice, commitment and apartheid. Set in South Africa the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Gordimer may be exploring the theme of sacrifice. Mrs Bamjee throughout the story is thinking of others and taking risks in order to help others. Something that is noticeable by her acquisition of the duplicating machine. With the machine she is able to spread a message of protest to others. A protest that involves highlighting the injustices of apartheid that existed in South Africa and which was formally established in the 1950s and followed through till its cessation in 1991. Mrs Bamjee is dedicated to the anti-apartheid cause even though it does not directly affect her. Due to her ethnicity (Indian) she is not subject to the same punitive measures that affected black people in South Africa. This may be important as it suggests that though apartheid is not necessarily Mrs Bamjee’s fight she still nonetheless is prepared to sacrifice all she has, including her freedom, in order to help others.

This is in contrast to her husband Bamjee who throughout the story shows a selfish and uncaring streak when it comes to the subject of apartheid. Because apartheid does not affect him directly he has no concerns about its effects on others, unlike Mrs Bamjee. In reality both Bamjee and Mrs Bamjee are politically the opposite of each other. One (Mrs Bamjee) can see that there is a great injustice being done and is looking for equality for all South Africans while throughout the story Bamjee thinks of no one but himself. Even suggesting that Mrs Bamjee’s arrest is her own fault. At no stage does he show his wife any support. As far as Bamjee is concerned Mrs Bamjee has a role to play and that role involves her life being centred on Bamjee and the family. While Mrs Bamjee is a struggling political activist Bamjee on the other hand has no time for anybody but himself.

The role that Mrs Bamjee’s children play may also be important as unlike Bamjee they are supportive and understanding of their mother. While she is in prison Jimmy and Girlie visit her to offer her their support. They can both see that Mrs Bamjee is seeking justice for black people in South Africa. For black people to be treated as equal to whites. Mrs Bamjee does not discriminate when it comes to the colour of a person’s skin something that cannot be said for Bamjee. There is a sense that he supports apartheid and considers himself to be better than black people. He does not wish to be involved in any way political or otherwise with the struggles the anti-apartheid movement faced at the time. Again his position in life is solely based on what others can do for him particularly what Mrs Bamjee can do for him.

How unselfish Mrs Bamjee actually is; is also noticeable near the end of the story when she reminds Girlie that it is Bamjee’s birthday. Though she is on hunger strike in protest of what is happening to black people in South Africa she is still balanced enough in life to remember that it is Bamjee’s birthday. Though some critics may suggest that Mrs Bamjee should forget about Bamjee, particularly due to the lack of support he gives her, it is possible that Gordimer is focusing on Mrs Bamjee’s ability to remember others. To not put the spotlight on her own life as Bamjee does. There is also a sense that Bamjee is disgruntled while he is eating his breakfast. Possibly because he has had to prepare it for himself.  The setting of the story may also be important as all the action takes place in Bamjee’s home. It is possible that by doing so Gordimer is attempting to highlight that South Africa was the only country in the world in whereby apartheid existed. It was confined to the one place. The title of the story may also have some symbolic significance with Gordimer suggesting that Mrs Bamjee is a shining light (chip of glass ruby shining) in a dark place (apartheid).

The end of the story is also interesting as Bamjee despite his misgivings about Mrs Bamjee’s actions realises that he loves her because she is different to others. She is not like other Indian women. She is prepared to sacrifice her life not only for the anti-apartheid movement but Bamjee knows that she is also prepared to sacrifice her life for him and the family too. She is unwavering in her dedication to both her family and the anti-apartheid movement. Standing up for others who are unable to stand up for themselves. All in order to seek equality for every man, woman and child in South Africa. While Bamjee may not be able to connect with the anti-apartheid movement there is a sense at the end of the story that he does understand Mrs Bamjee’s commitment and it is this commitment that he has fallen in love with. He may not like the direction Mrs Bamjee is going (hunger strike) but he understands she is a forthright and strong woman who believes in equality for all.  Even if it means that she must sacrifice her life to achieve her goal.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Chip of Glass Ruby by Nadine Gordimer." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 4 Apr. 2017. Web.


  • Is Mr Bamjee fit to be a South African citizen? Explain to me in details.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thank you for the comment Isaka. At the time the story is set Mrs Bamjee would not have been seen to have been fit to be a South African citizen by the South African government due to her stance against apartheid.

  • What is meant by “hunger strike”?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Siboniso. A hunger strike is when a person, usually a prisoner or protester, starves themselves of food in order to make a point or to protest about an issue.

  • What I do not understand is whether Mrs Bamjee is in prison or at home?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Musa. At the beginning of the story Mrs Bamjee is at home but the police come to her home and she ends up in prison because she is using a printing press to print leaflets promoting an anti-apartheid message.

  • What exactly is the main theme of this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lusani. The main theme would be the sacrifices made by some during the apartheid era.

  • Mr Bamjee is not a fit man to be South African his selfishness and hatred of wanting spotlight inside of his pocket cannot build the country.

  • Explain the. Following statement is true. The clock from Mrs Bamber saw it. Was three o’clock, was a durable one

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mapula. It is possible that Gordimer is suggesting that Mrs Bamjee is as true and as durable (or resilient) as the clock.

  • At the beginning the are nine Bamjee children, at the end we find that Bamjee has only his son Jimmy and only his daughter Girlie. How many Bamjee children are there?

  • Why did Mrs Bamjee decide to involve her self?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mzamo. Gordimer doesn’t clearly state as to why Mrs Bamjee got involved with the anti-apartheid movement so it is left to each individual reader to decide as to why she acts as she does. It is possible that Mrs Bamjee believes in equality and justice for all regardless of the colour of an individual’s skin. That may be her motivation.

  • Thank you! We have this short story as a prescribed story at our school, but we haven’t received any information about it. Without this… I would probably fail the test!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Shiné. I’m glad that you found the post of some benefit to you. Good luck with your test.

  • Why were they duplicating the leaflets?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Sbosh. By duplicating the leaflets there was more leaflets to distribute. Which meant that Mrs Bamjee could hand out more leaflets to more people. Ensuring more people would read about her cause (anti-apartheid).

  • Do you think Mrs Bamjee has only political relationship with the mans?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mrs Bamjee is married to Mr Bamjee and has nine children with him. Her relationship with the anti-apartheid movement appears to be strictly political with no hint that she may be involved romantically with anybody else.

  • Who was in Mr Bamjee’s house and how did he feel about that?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mr Bamjee lives with Mrs Bamjee and their children. Mr Bamjee was not happy that Mrs Bamjee was part of the anti-apartheid movement. However at the end of the story he has a change of mind and reflects on way he loves Mrs Bamjee.

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