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Questioning the “Other”


A close examination of one aspect of The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

“If they really had desired one another so much it had not evidenced itself before—no hand-holding or kisses, or intimate touching over clothes in titillation; probably due to him, some tradition or inhibition in him, foreign to her—she had been accustomed to playing at love-making since she was twelve years old, had had the usual quota of lovers common to the friends around their table, and took her contraceptive pill daily with her vitamins.” (Gordimer 27)

One of the main aspects of the novel is, in my opinion, the sharp juxtaposition of Julie’s sexuality versus Ibrahim’s sexuality. As two people distinctly different in gender, cultural background and race, Julie and Ibrahim also represent two disparate cultural approaches to sexuality. What struck me about this quote is that the narrator tells the reader that Julie had become sexually active at the age of twelve. Personally, I can say that the culture I am coming from (the Turkish culture) is similar to (if not the same as) Ibrahim’s cultural background in the sense that sexuality is not something often talked about explicitly and publicly—at least in an average Turkish family. Likewise, having sex at a young age is looked down upon by the majority of the society, and even if it happens, it is definitely not something to talk about in public. Having read this quote, I was surprised (if not shocked—after spending almost two months in the States) to see how a girl can start having sex at such an early age, and moreover, how this can be perceived as “normal”, considering how early a stage the girl is at, both physically and psychologically, at that age. I can understand how my cultural background affects my perception of this quote, but what is so beautiful about this quote and the novel in general is that Gordimer boldly puts forth two different views regarding sexuality, and whether the reader comes from an Eastern culture or a Western culture, he or she can still be shocked by the other point of view. Gordimer’s narration puts the same distance to Ibrahim’s cultural approach as it does to Julie’s, which makes the text partly familiar and partly foreign to almost every reader, making them feel close to the story and to the characters while forcing them to face and question the foreignness. A reader from an Eastern society, for instance, might find it easier to relate to the “some tradition or inhibition in [Ibrahim]” regarding sexuality whereas a reader from a Western background might consider Julie’s early exposure to sex completely normal and natural. Yet, surely both readers would find themselves in a situation where they begin to ponder the “other”, more “foreign” perspective regarding the subject matter.

Yeri: English

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