A Chip of Glass Ruby by Nadine Gordimer
In 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). It is also possible that Gordimer is using the colour of a ruby (usually red) to suggest symbolically the idea that Mrs Bamjee is prepared to give her life (or blood) in her fight against 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.