The moment before the gun went off: Van Der Vyer’s true identity
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In Philosophy the word identity is used to designate a sense of self that develops in the course of a man’s life and that both relates him to and sets him apart from his social milieu. To talk about our identity, we try to answer the question, “Who am I?”. Identity gives us a location in the world and presents the link between us and the society in which we live. We have different kinds of identity: national identity, social identity, cultural/racial identity, class identity, familial identity, gender identity, sexual identity, etc. Some people say all these identities are formed beyond our control, but I believe this not to be the case. Society, politics, and experiences can greatly influence a person’s identity but do not create a person’s true identity. A believe a person’s identity is under their immediate control. There is a person’s true personality and the one they choose to respond to society with. This is true in the case of Martin Van der Vyver a character of the short story “The Moment Before The Gun Went Off” written by author Nadine Gordimer. “A story set in South Africa during the days of apartheid.
The story takes place in South Africa, on Marais Van Dr Vyver’s large farm, presumably in the 80’s or 90’s. Marais Van der Vyver is a white South African man of Dutch descent, the region Party leader and Commandant of the local security commando. Van der Vyver is married to Alida, but has had a secret affair to a black woman thus resulted in a son, Lucas. Lucas probably does not know that Van der Vyver is his father, or at least we are not told so in the text. Lucas is also one of Van der Vyver’s black employees. One day, Van der Vyver took Lucas hunting (as they had done several times before). Lucas stood back on the truck to point out the game, whilst Van der Vyver sat inside the cab with the rifle beside him.
The old rifle had once belonged to his father, and since his father had a policy about not having any loaded guns in their house, Van der Vyver had taken the rifle out of the cupboard assuming it was not loaded. But he was wrong. In excitement of spotting a kudu, Van der Vyver drove rather fast over a pot hole. The jolt caused the fire of the rifle, and the bullet went through the roof of the truck and into Lucas’ head that stood bent over the roof. Lucas died by accident, but Van der Vyver had to give his statement of what happened at the police office, knowing that this would be reported all over the world. That means that both he and his family’s lives are ruined. But neither the police nor the media knew that Lucas was not just Van der Vyver’s worker, he was his son.
T he story is told through the point of view of the farmer, at first it seems that all the farmer really cares about is the negative publicity he will receive. “Bad enough to have killed a man without helping the party’s, the governments, the country’s enemies as well”. He also states that “They’ll (Africans rebelling against apartheid rule) be able to use it in their boycott and divestment campaigns it’ll be another piece of evidence about the truth of this country.” At first this seems as the correct response from a supporter of the Apartheid system but in truth these are not how Van Der Vyers’ truly feels.
As I have stated before I think people have their true identities (which they nay or may not choose) and the identities they put out to society. Van Der Vyer is a politician, he must cater to the support of his party he is supposed to be an example of the ideals of his party, but in the act of having an illegitimate son during an era where it is crime shows that he himself secretly cares very little about the ideals of the Apartheid Party but the world sees him as an overt believer in the Apartheid system. For one thing when he states he is “terribly shocked” and he will “look after the wife and children” this is the true Van Der Vyer speaking out of grief, but because of him spending his life with a false identity know one believes him because they seem as an apartheid supporter “they think all blacks are like bigmouth agitators in town”. The fact is if he really believed in all the party’s ideals He would have been nowhere near a Black woman and have an illegitimate son.
It seems even though there were strict rules in the society Van Der Vyer had a direct identity opposite of what he was supposedly to have. In fact you make Call Van Der Vyer a weak man for not being his true self. The only thing that does bring out his true characteristics ironically is the death of his son a black child. Vyer is so shaken up with grief that the police officer he confessed the accident to was embarrassed to see Vyer’s nonstop weeping. “He sobbed, snot running onto his hands, like a dirty kid”. “The captain was ashamed of him, and walked out to give him a chance to recover himself.
We can pretty much assume that Vyer’s was saddened by the death of his son. Vyer secretly truly cared for his son. If he had in fact just satisfied his sexual desires on a random black woman who bore his child he would have wanted nothing to do with his son let alone hiring the boy to work on his farm and teach him the art of mechanics while going hunting with him now and then, he treated Lucas as much as a son as he could have without getting himself known, any other self respecting racist would have kept the boy far away from him or paid the mother to stay away. As far as we know it is a mutual understanding between the mother and the Vyers to keep it a secret. For one thing she could have announced the secret at Lucas; funeral in front of Vyer’s wife and the whole community, but it seems to have enough respect for him not to destroy his name even though he shot her Son.
If you can see between the lines you can see Vyers’ true identity an identity that he has chosen to hide in favor of a strong apartheid leader. We can assume if he was willing he could have acted in A completely different way opposing societies influences on him but he choose to “follow the times” he lived in and hide his true nature. The final piece of Evidence is when he is thinking of the changes lately in the Government and the repelling of the immorality Act that forbade Blacks and whites from sleeping together he thinks “it’s not even a crime anymore”. This is a tragically ironic statement which shows that he grieves the fact that if it was just that way twenty years ago he could have had a different life with his son. His public life was not the result of his own choice (which is what dictates the identity of a person) but a basic response to the political system of the time.