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Tasks: The Moment Before the Gun Went Off

Tasks based on the short story "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" by Nadine Gordimer.

Comprehension Task

Characters and Relationships

  1. What impression do you have of Van der Vyver?
  2. What does the writer reveal about him? (past/present)
  3. What does the writer tell us about his wife, and their marriage?
  4. What do we learn about Lucas and Van der Vyver?
  5. What can we conclude about Lucas’ mother?
  6. Why are we told her age?
  7. What do we learn about the relationship between the white farmers and their black workers?
  8. How do you react to the fact that Lucas was outside the cab while Van der Vyver was inside?
  9. Reread the funeral scene. How do you interpret the following excerpt: "She does not look up, she does not look at Van der Vyver, whose gun went off in the truck. She stares at the grave. Nothing will make her look up, there need be no fear that she will look up, at him."

Other Points

  1. Why do you think the story is called "The Moment BEFORE the Gun Went Off"?
  2. What effect does the information in the last sentence have on our understanding of the rest of the story?
  3. Is there information sprinkled throughout the story that now seems more understandable to us? Examples? What do we call this literary technique?
  4. How do you interpret Van der Vyver’s remark that the dead man’s "young wife was pregnant (of course)"?
  5. Considering what we learn about Van der Vyer at the end of the story, what do you think about the statement that whites and blacks sleeping together is “not even a crime any more”?
  6. Study the second paragraph on page 2. Who are “they”? What does he mean when he suggests that the accident “will fit exactly THEIR version of South Africa”? Has Van der Vyver any reason to worry about “them”?
  7. What other references does the story give to apartheid and the increasing popular resistance to the apartheid system?
  8. What do you consider the theme(s) of the story?

Writing Tasks

  1. Until the very last sentence "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off" seems to be a story about a tragic shooting accident during the time of apartheid in South Africa. When we think back, however, we realize that we have been given various hints (“foreshadowing”) that it is more than that. Did you detect such hints? Give some examples. How do they add to our understanding of Van der Vyer’s reactions to Lucas’ death? Why are some of his reactions unusual? In some ways this is also a story of deceit. In what ways and to whom has Van der Vyer been deceitful? Write a essay discussing these points and conclude by stating whether or not you liked the story.
  2. On the day of the funeral Lucas’ mother quietly slips into her modest little bedroom. Under the mattress she finds a tattered diary, opens it and starts writing. Write her entry.
  3. Lucas’ mother looks through his things after the funeral, and hidden behind a chest of drawers she spots some notes in Lucas’ cramped handwriting. She starts reading and with a pounding heart realizes that Lucas has sensed that he has received special attention from Van der Vyer. He has been speculating on some incidents in the past and has obviously pondered on the reasons………
    Write his notes.
  4. Write an article about the shooting incident for Van der Vyyer’s local newspaper. Make a suitable heading.
  5. Rewrite a part of the story from Van der Vyer’s point of view. Choose the part yourself.

Relatert innhold

CC BY-NC-SASkrevet av Olav Nessa og Åse Elin Langeland.
Sist faglig oppdatert 26.02.2018


South Africa