The Conservationist Study Guide

The Conservationist

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

The Conservationist Book Summary

In South Africa under apartheid, Mehring is a rich white businessman who is not satisfied with his life. His ex-wife has gone to America, his liberal son (who is probably gay) criticizes his conservative/capitalist ways and his lovers and colleagues do not actually seem interested in him. On a whim he buys a farm outside the city, afterwards trying to explain this purchase to himself as the search for a higher meaning in life. But it is clear that he knows next to nothing about farming, and that black workers run it– Mehring is simply an outsider, an intruder on the daily life of "his" farm.

One day the black foreman, Jacobus, finds an unidentified dead body on the farm. Since the dead man is black, the police find no urgency to look into the case and simply bury the body on the spot where it was found. The idea of an unknown black man buried on his land begins to "haunt" Mehring. A flood brings the body back to the surface; although the farm workers do not know the stranger, they now give him a proper burial as if he were a family member. There are hints that Mehring's own burial will be less emotional than this burial of a stranger.

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