The master-servant relationship of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' in Nadine Gordimer's 'July's People'

Seminar Paper, 2000

17 Pages, Grade: 2,5


Table of Content

1. Introduction
1.1 The object of analysis
1.2 The way of analysis

2. If Calliban´s wish came true –
The master-servant relationship of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Nadine Gordimer’s “July´s People”
2.1 The stranger in both works
2.1.1 The wild man Caliban
2.1.2 The wild man July
2.2 The imperialist in both works
2.2.1 How the masters are presented
2.2.2 Why do the masters want to control ?
2.2.3 Why were the masters accepted at the beginning and are later fought on ?
2.2.4 The master as educator
2.3 Two attempts to become free
2.4 If a dream comes true..
2.4.1 How the slave deals with new power
2.4.2 Prospero’s nightmare: the arrogance of the white man

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

1.1 The object of analysis

Already in 1611 William Shakespeare argued in his romance “The Tempest” with the conquest of the New World. A wide space in this play is fulfilled by the analysis of the relationship between the European imperialist and the submissive native, shown by the example of Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, and the creature Caliban, the “savage and deformed slave”1.

Nearly 400 years later, in 1982, the South African author Nadine Gordimer deals with the situation of the abused slave in her novel “July’s People” again. She creates a fictional situation where the former white-coloured masters have lost their power after a successful revolution of the suppressed black majority. The white middle-class-family the Smales become themselves slaves as they are from now on dependent from their servant July, who offers them a refuge in his homeland.

In the upcoming analysis I want to show that Nadine Gordimer created a situation which can be seen as “If Caliban’s wish came true...”, as she continues the attempt of the slave to recover his liberty.

I want to compare both novels in order to prove that Gordimer orientated herself very much on Shakespeare’s play and makes use of typical characteristics of the master and the slave we find in “there. Her work should be regarded on the one hand as continuation and on the other hand as a lean on “The Tempest”.

1 Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Rex Gibson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,1995. ‘List of Characters’, 1.

1.2 The way of Analysis

In order to compare both novels it is essential to chose the matter of facts and the characters you can compare on the easiest way. Although Shakespeare makes use of several examples for the European in the New World – we find Prospero, Ferdinand, Miranda, Stephano and Trinculo – and for the suppressed servant Caliban and Ariel -, I want to concentrate on Prospero as main character and Caliban as the abused slave, who is obviously more captured in his role than Ariel is. Therefore he is easier to compare with the equivalent July in Gordimer´s work. On the other hand we see the Smales as the white masters in Africa, who show – as it is to prove – a similar behaviour as Prospero.

At first I want to compare the characterisation of the two parties in both works, especially Gordimer´s characters in regard to the ones in “The Tempest”. Afterwards I want to deal with the slaves’ efforts and their realisation to create a new order in their home country.

The relation between Prospero and Caliban and Shakespeare’s position towards the term of colonisation has often been discussed in scientific works, especially in regard to contemporary novels about slavery and imperialism. The sum of reviews about “The Tempest” is uncountable, in contrast to reviews about “July´s people”. Because this novel was said to be not as good as her previous works it has not been such a theme in the scientific discourse.

But the importance of “July´s people” results out of its uniqueness. Like Shakespeare, who was the first stage-author dealing with the problems of colonialism, Gordimer was the first author creating a scenario of the change of power in the colonised states.

She requires acknowledgements therefore that she confronted her audience with a theme, they have tried to push away. Especially to express Shakespeare’s actuality and his influence to contemporary literature it seems interesting to analyse this novel in regard to Victorian time.

2. If Caliban´s wish came true –

The master-servant relationship of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Nadine Gordimer’s “July´s People”

2.1 How the stranger is presented

2.1.1 The wild man Caliban in “The Tempest”

“The Tempest” was written in a time when the imagination of the stranger overseas was very negative: Due to their opinion to be the world’s superior culture, the Europeans regarded the new explored cultures as being of minor worth. It was commonly said that the stranger in Africa or America was not able to write or to calculate or even to live after moral principles. Most people were not able to get in contact with the stranger abroad and their picture was determined by distance, scepticism and rejection. Shakespeare shows the strangeness of the native Caliban especially in his external creation: the stranger on the island seems to be a creature between fish and human, who is such a cruel creature that the Europeans are disgusted by his presence2. As a spawn of the Algerian witch Sycorax and a devil, Caliban gets a demon-like aura3, his name “Caliban” is an allusion of cannibalism . Even the colour of his skin can be seen as mark of his less-human status – therefore Prospero describes him as “this thing of darkness”4.

Superficially Caliban is a mirror-picture of the society’s imagination of strangers, even a kind of a caricature as the native is not even human. But in his inner life Caliban seems to be more honourable and more intelligent: he sees the injustice in the conquest of his island by Prospero, and is forced to escape out of his captivity. He feels when he is abused ( he resists against Stephano and Trinculo ) and shows gratefulness at the end of the play. Shakespeare gives him human features and shows him beastly, “noble but vanquished”5: he thinks, complains, grieves. His deepest wish is symbolised in his dream to substitute the master for

2: cf.: Ariel saying: “ ‘Tis a villain sir, I do not love to look on”. The Tempest. Ed. Rex Gibson. Act 1/s. 2/l.

310 f.

3: cf. Prospero is characterising him as “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick”. The

Tempest. Ed. Rex Gibson. Act 1/s. 2/l. 310. Act 4 / s.2 / l.188 f.

4: The Tempest. Ed. Rex Gibson. Act 1/s. 2/l. 310. Act 4 / s.2 / l.521.

5: Vaughan, Alden T. / Vaughan, Virginia Mason: Shakespeare´s Caliban – A Cultural History. Cambridge:

Cambridge UP, 1991.50.

master for an island “without slaves and clowns”6

Therefore creature Caliban can be seen as more human than he seems to be by his external look.

Giving the servant honourable characteristics Shakespeare oriented on the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne who created such a character in one of his famous “Essays” ( 1580 ) called “About the cannibals”. In there Montaigne describes the way of life in a South American tribe and draws a kind of an idealistic example for the immoral European culture. As main point in his consideration serves the term of the natural state where law and power is substituted by a free life in contact to nature. Montaigne´s stranger has morality and knows human values and can therefore be compared with Caliban who sees injustice in the conquest and had lived – up to Prospero’s conquest – in natural freedom7. He loves his island, and his language eloquently expresses some of the most haunting poetry in the play when he responds to Ariel’s music: “the isle is full of noises”8.

But Caliban does not become an idealistic character as Montaigne´s servant as he also contains an evil side. He plans to rape Miranda to beget children to keep up his sexuality and of killing Prospero, is incapable of being civilised or educated. Caliban appears dangerous and incalculable as he symbolises missing rationality ( he symbolises “lust” in contrast to Ferdinand, who symbolises “love” and natural malevolence in contrast to Antonio, who can be seen as civilised villain ).

In people’s eyes Caliban is a stranger, and with him Shakespeare did definitely not create an admirable hero. But Shakespeare expresses that in spite of their strangeness, the natives should not be abused and suppressed in such an inhuman way. Caliban’s force to murder his master is a result of Prospero´s punishments and has to be seen as a desperate attempt to substitute the authority on the island. His weakness can also be interpreted as a result of the wickedness of his parents.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


The master-servant relationship of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' in Nadine Gordimer's 'July's People'
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
PS 'Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' and the View of the Other'
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Thesis paper on master-servant relationship and imperialism as described in Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Gordimer's contemporary novel "July's People". Bibliography includes works by Tzvetan Todorov, Leslie Fielder and Edward W. Said.
Shakespeare, Tempest, Nadine, Gordimer, July, People, Tempest‘, View, Other“
Quote paper
Bernd Evers (Author), 2000, The master-servant relationship of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' in Nadine Gordimer's 'July's People', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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