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).

    • As if she was pounding chillies …what does this mean?

      • Dermot (Post Author)

        Thanks for the comment Lerato. Gordimer may be suggesting that Mrs Bamjee is dedicated and focused on what she is doing.

  • 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.

  • What does the group areas act mean?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      You’ll find a good answer to your question here. The first couple of sentences will give you a good idea as to what the Group Areas Act was.

  • Why did Mrs Bamjee get involved in the ant-apartheid movement?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Pitsi. It is possible that Mrs Bamjee believes in justice and equality for all regardless of the colour of an individual’s skin. She may feel as though what is happening in South Africa (at the time) is not right and wants to lend a hand, the best she can, to improve the circumstances of others.

  • How did Jimmy support his mother when she was in jail

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lutendo. Jimmy supports his mother by visiting her in prison. He also gives his mother his green jersey. So that she can wear it in prison.

  • Mr Bamjee ‘felt the night all around him’ explain the symbolism

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Trevor. I think this line represents the loneliness that Mr Bamjee feels after Mrs Bamjee has been sent to prison. His world is in darkness and he may regret the fact that he has not supported Mrs Bamjee and the anti apartheid cause.

  • Still confused about the nine children. What can I know about them cause the narrator only speaks about Jimmy and Girlie,. Who are the other 7, are they a biological part of the family?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Carnition. Mr Bamjee had four children prior to marrying Mrs Bamjee (nee Pahad) and Mrs Bamjee brought five children into the marriage to Mr Bamjee. I’m not sure as to why the narrator doesn’t mention all children, perhaps they are still young and unaware of the circumstances that Mrs Bamjee finds herself in.

  • What’s Girlie’s real name?

  • What is the duplicating machine for….and what was the reason for the arrest of Mrs Bamjee

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Zama. The duplicating machine duplicated (or printed) anti-apartheid leaflets. Mrs Bamjee went to prison for not only printing the leaflets but for distributing them too.

  • What is the setting of the story, is it just South Africa?

  • Very excellent summary, well done!

  • Was Mr Bamjee happy about Mrs Bamjee being arrested?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Kay. Mr Bamjee was resentful of the fact that Mrs Bamjee was arrested. He was also embarrassed because people (school teacher) talked about the fact that Mrs Bamjee had been arrested.

  • Does his mood (Mr Bamjee) stay the same after Zanip’s arrest?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mr Bamjee’s mood changes. Something that is noticeable when Mr Bamjee discovers that Zanip is on hunger strike. In support of her he pushes his own plate away when he is eating at home. Mr Bamjee moves from being resentful towards Zanip to being supportive of her actions as the story progresses.

  • Since they lived in a house with no room for privacy how do the children react towards their argument about anti-arpatheid?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Both Jimmy and Girlie are supportive of their mother and there is no mention of the other children who may be too young to understand what is happening.

  • Does Mrs Bamjee’s arrest affect Mr Bamjee’s work?

  • Thanks a lot Dermot.

  • What is a purpose of hidden in a washbasket and conveyed in a black man’s taxi?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Moeketsi. That’s how the duplicator was transported to Mrs Bamjee’s home. It had to be hidden as it was most likely illegal to have one at the time.

  • Does the story end on the climax? If not, what is the falling action and resolution?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Buhle. The story doesn’t end on the climax which would be when Mrs Bamjee is arrested. As for the falling action that would occur when Mrs Bamjee decides to go on hunger strike. The stories resolution is when Mr Bamjee realises why he married Mrs Bamjee (because of her commitment).

  • What is the meaning of ‘chip of glass ruby.’ Thank you in advance.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment William. If you mean literally than a chip of glass ruby would be a small piece of ruby that has been taken from a bigger ruby. If you mean as in what is the meaning of the title of the story then symbolically Gordimer could be suggesting that Mrs Bamjee is a little shining light in a dark place (apartheid). Also if you mean as in what is the story about then it would be about the struggle some people like Mrs Bamjee went through to help others (black people) during the apartheid era.

  • Mrs Bamjee worked the duplicator as if she might have been pounding chillies. What does the simile tells about the 2 aspects of Mrs Bamjee’s life?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment M. I would suggest that the two aspects of Mrs Bamjee’s life that Gordimer is referring to is the fact that Mrs Bamjee is hard working and focused.

  • What do we learn about Mrs Bamjee’s ability to deal with people in the words
    “He found her now back in the kitchen setting… different wave lengths with the children”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mrs Bamjee may be able to adapt to different circumstances. When she is with the children she acts as a mother and when she is doing anti-apartheid work she acts as an activist.

  • What evidence is there that Mr Bamjee can be self-centered?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      When Mrs Bamjee is in prison Mr Bamjee gives out about the fact that he has to work and then go home and look after the children. His number one concern appears to be himself and not Mrs Bamjee’s circumstances.

  • Do children sympathize more with Bamjee/Mrs Bamjee? Give 3 reasons pls.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I think that the children are equally supportive of both Mr and Mrs Bamjee. They are not critical of Mr Bamjee when they could be and they remain committed to Mrs Bamjee and believe in her actions.

      • Do you agree that the children sympathised more with Bamjee when Mrs Bamjee got arrested?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I think they were more supportive of Mrs Bamjee after she got arrested and definitely more supportive when she went on hunger strike. They focused more on Mrs Bamjee than they did on Mr Bamjee.

      • If you had to choose between Bamjee and Mrs Bamjee who would it be?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          I’d go with Mrs Bamjee as she has principles. She is hard working and is focused as a person. She believes in something and is willing to go to jail over her beliefs.

  • What does Mr Bamjee learn in closing paragraphs of story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Mr Bamjee realises how dedicated Mrs Bamjee is and how he may not have given her the full support that she needed. He also realises how lucky he is to have Mrs Bamjee as a wife.

  • What does the duplication machine symbolise?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ntshuxi. Most likely the duplication machine symbolises the spread of anti-apartheid feelings in South Africa. Each leaflet given to people might sway or change their opinion on apartheid.

  • What traits does Gordimer give Mrs . Bamjee to make her a sympathetic character?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Pinky. Mrs Bamjee would be a patient and resilient character. Not only is she dedicated to her family but she is also dedicated to the anti-apartheid movement. Nothing seems to faze her and she remains driven by her beliefs.

  • What conclusion would you draw about the relationship between Mrs Bamjee and Bamjee?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Though Mr Bamjee does not approve of Mrs Bamjee’s activities he begins to understand how important the ant-apartheid movement is to her when she goes on hunger strike. He also knows that she is a good mother and that he himself may not have been there when Mrs Bamjee needed him. At the end of the story his pushing of his food away from him symbolically connects Mr Bamjee with Mrs Bamjee. No longer is Mr Bamjee thinking of himself.

  • How does Bamjee feel about his wife’s political activities?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Bamjee is not pleased and it is only when Mrs Bamjee goes on hunger strike that he begins to support her.

  • What happens when the government finds out about Mrs Bamjee’s activities?

  • How do the members of Mrs Bamjee’s family react to what happens to her?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Each is supportive of her. With both Girlie and Jimmy visiting their mother in prison. While Mr Bamjee though he doesn’t go to the prison he still at the end of the story supports Mrs Bamjee. Something that is symbolically noticeable when he pushes his food away from him.

  • What political struggle is Mrs Bamjee engaged with?

  • There’s this thing i don’t understand about the number of children mrs bamjee had….please read the second paragraph carefully

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Julian. I’ve mentioned in some comments that there are nine children. Thanks to your observations I now realise that there are ten children.

  • “She did so as she might have been pounding chilies” What’s the writer saying in these lines?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Evans. Gordimer is using a figure of speech called a simile to suggest that Mrs Bamjee is working as hard at printing the leaflets as she would be doing if she was preparing chilies for a meal for the family. She is focused on the task she is doing.

  • What does the word” flattered” tells us about how Mr Bamjee feels about his wife’s political activities?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jabulani. Mr Bamjee is thinking of himself when he sees some of the people helping Mrs Bamjee. It is as though his ego is boosted that such dignitaries or important people come into his home. It is only at the end of the story that he actually thinks about Mrs Bamjee’s political activities and supports them..

  • How many rooms are there in the Bamjee household?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Nelly. In total there are four rooms in the Bamjee household. The living room and three other rooms which all contain beds.

  • Did Indian people have to carry passes during the time the story is set?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Yes they did have to carry passes. However the carrying of passes stopped in 1986. I’m not sure what year that Gordimer has set the story. I know it’s during the apartheid era which ended in 1991.

  • ‘Isn’t it enough that you’ve got the Indians’ troubles on your back?’ Can you please explain this line for me. I find it hard to understand.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lindokuhle. Bamjee appears to be annoyed that Mrs Bamjee is taking on the cause of black South Africans. He thinks that those who are Indian already have enough trouble without trying to help others.

  • Please describe the visit of the Special Branch (969).

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lissa. Mrs Bamjee is calm throughout the time that the Special Branch arrive at her home. Though she is annoyed that the Special Branch try and take the tome Nehru had written. If anything Mrs Bamjee is determined. She knows that she is guilty. However guilt is the last thing on her mind. Mr Bamjee on the other hand blames his wife publicly for what is happening. He is not supportive of his wife. The Special Branch themselves also know exactly what they are doing and who they are looking for. Which may suggest that an informant has provided information to the Special Branch about Mrs Bamjee’s actions.

  • There is a line that says during Mrs Bamjee and Mr Bamjee’s verbal exchange “The children looked expectantly, unalarmed and interested at Bamjee” Can you explain what was the reason for this reaction

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Thandi. The children appear to be more supportive of Mrs Bamjee than they are of Mr Bamjee. He seems to be the only one in the family who has a problem with the duplicating machine being in the house. That might be why the children are unalarmed and interested in what Mr Bamjee might have to say.

  • How does the title “A Chip of Glass Ruby” align with the story itself?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Gordimer may be suggesting that Mrs Bamjee is a shining light (chip of glass ruby shining) in a dark place (apartheid).

  • What are the themes of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Hanedzani. The themes of the story are sacrifice, prejudice, selfishness, justice, commitment and apartheid.

  • Hey, gyz what is Girlie’s real name?

  • Jimmy was ridiculed in the class by Mr Petersen

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Millz. Mr Peterson does not like what Mrs Bamjee is doing so he ridicules Jimmy.

      • Has the teacher reprimanded Ahmed or Jimmy ? In page 26 of the book Changes its written ‘they have been cruel to Ahmed’

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Senelisiwe. As far as I can figure out it is Ahmed who has been reprimanded by the teacher because of Mrs Bamjee’s actions.

  • What is the meant by the word”hunger strike”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      A hunger strike is an action taken by an individual in protest at something. In this case Mrs Bamjee refuses to eat food while in prison. Such are her strong feelings about apartheid.

  • Did Mrs Bamjee do anything in the anti apartheid movement other than using the duplicating machine to produce leaflets? I think there were some other things that I didn’t catch in the book.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Randall. Mrs Bamjee at one time before she started using the duplicating press wrote the minutes for meetings she attended with others who supported the anti-apartheid movement. Mrs Bamjee was also part of the South African Indian Congress.

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