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The old man initially tries to sell his carved lion for three shillings and sixpence to the young
couple, but fails. Later, he shouts to the young man already on the train that he will sell it for
oneandsix. His acceptance of such a low price and his breath, visible "between his ribs,"
indicate that he is desperate and probably very poor. His polite manners, his "smiling, not from
the heart, but at the customer," indicate both his dire circumstances and his dependence on
tourists like the young couple. Gordimer offers little description, but indicates that he is very old,
a man who murmurs, "as old people repeat things to themselves." Gordimer refers twice to his
feet in the sand, thus showing the old man's connection with the land, which contrasts with the
young couple who are enclosed in the train.
In "The Train from Rhodesia," a train's short stop in a poor African village highlights the racial
and class barriers that typify South African life in the 1950s. Though only a few pages long,
Gordimer's story encompasses several themes besides racial inequality, including greed,
poverty, and conscience.
Race and Racism
In South Africa, apartheid, the legal separation of races, became law in 1947. It is not
necessary for Gordimer to mention the race of the characters in the story. Readers in the 1950s
understood that the "old native" was black and the rich tourists were white. In a society so
harshly divided, Gordimer writes of an instance in which the two races interact, thus revealing
the patronizing attitudes of whites towards blacks and the blacks' virtual enslavement and
dependency on the whites. The whites, moreover, are not native to the country just as the train
passengers are merely "tourists" in the village that exists fro.....
"The Train from Rhodesia" begins and ends with the symbol of the train. Gordimer structures her
story around this metaphor and uses limited thirdperson narration to tell it. The narrator reveals
only the thoughts of the young woman, thus focusing the story around her perspective, even
though the stationmaster and his family are introduced to the reader before the train arrives. The
woman's thoughts are conveyed through interruptions in Gordimer's detailed narrative. These
interruptions reveal her moral questions about her husband's bargaining for the carving:
"Everything was turning around inside her. Oneandsix. Oneandsix." That no one else's
thoughts are revealed by the narrator further emphasizes the psychological distance between
the woman and the other characters in the story.
Kegoletile, a young man "rich in cattle," has fathered children with two different women, Mathata
and Neo. He can only marry one of them, and he chooses to marry Neo because her
educational background means that she will probably earn more money than Mathata.
Nevertheless, Kegoletile supports Mathata and her child with a monthly stipend, and continues
to behave kindly toward her, by bringing her gifts and regularly spending time in her yard. He is
still quite attracted to Mathata, who is "always her own natural self," but he realizes that Neo is
the kind of woman he should marry, in spite of her "false postures and acquired, grandmadame
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He appears to be torn between his emotional desire for Mathata and his practical desire
for Neo, but he keeps this to himself. Ultimately, Kegoletile marries Neo, who is six months
pregnant with their second child.
Tradition vs. Modernization
Kegoletile's choice between Neo and Mathata is essentially a choice between tradition and
modernization, the past and the future.…read more