Mrs. Douglas is the proprietress of the New Park Hotel in Johannesburg, around the corner from the narrator’s home. The narrator mentions the hotel to the drifter when he is looking for a place to stay in town, and she goes with him to ask Mrs. Douglas for a room. Later, the narrator discovers that the drifter has left the hotel without paying. Out of a sense of obligation to Mrs. Douglas, she secretly pays for the room and makes up an excuse for the drifter.
The drifter is a mysterious, unnamed character who moves in with the narrator and takes advantage of her passive good nature and isolation. He arrives at the gas station where the narrator works, driving an American car with worn-out tires and carrying Rhodesian money. He looks young and thin with blond hair and a deep suntan. He has false teeth and scars on his back and stomach. The narrator describes him as ‘‘like one of those men you see in films, you know, the stranger in town who doesn’t look as if he lives anywhere.’’ He tells her he is thirty-seven years old, but later details suggest he may be quite a bit younger. He tells her he has been a mercenary fighting on the side of a native leader in the Congo, and that he has come to Johannesburg ‘‘on business’’ and because some people owe him money. After staying for several nights in a hotel recommended by the narrator, he skips out without paying. He spends one night with the narrator, then asks for the key and moves in with her. The narrator is afraid to ask him to leave. She eventually begins to distrust him and to fear for her own safety. He departs as mysteriously as he arrived.
Jack is a petrol attendant at the suburban Johannesburg gas station where the narrator works. ‘‘Jack’’ is a nickname he uses in white circles; his real name is Mpanza Makiwane. She refers to him as ‘‘the boss-boy,’’ since the station manager works in an office in the city. Like the other petrol attendants, he is black. The narrator trusts and respects him more than the other black employees, although she is very conscious of the gap in their social status. She used to buy brandy for him when South African blacks were prohibited from purchasing alcohol.
Jack’s behavior in the story reveals him to be observant, intelligent, and sensitive. He serves the drifter when he first comes to the service station, and he is immediately suspicious of him because of his foreign currency and the worn-out tires on his car. Throughout the story the narrator speaks to Jack about the drifter. Although she does not tell him the drifter is living with her, nor that she feels threatened by his malignant presence, Jack grasps the situation and, on his own initiative, takes decisive action to protect his co-worker.
Madala is a black petrol attendant at the service station. Although he has worked there for twentythree years, the narrator still thinks of him as a ‘‘boy.’’ He refuses to run personal errands for the narrator, and so she complains to her superior about him. But the manager does not fire Madala because he has worked there for so long.
The narrator of ‘‘Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants’’ is a forty-nine-year-old white woman who works as a bookkeeper at a garage in suburban Johannesburg. She is formerly married and her grown-up daughter lives in Rhodesia with her husband and twin sons. She is rather vain, proud of her ‘‘perfect size fourteen’’ figure, and conscious of her appearance. Her racial views are typical of ordinary white South Africans during the apartheid era. She refers to her black coworkers as ‘‘boys,’’ even those who are clearly older than she is. She thinks and says insulting things about blacks and thinks of them as her inferiors. However, her more respectful attitude toward Jack indicates some flexibility in what otherwise seem to be hardened stereotypes. Recalling Jack’s sensitive regard for her plight leads her to remark that blacks have ‘‘got more feeling than whites sometimes, that’s the truth.’’ Nevertheless, she continues to condescend to Jack even while confiding in him.
The narrator’s social life is rather thin—she has a few casual friendships, but nobody with whom she can discuss intimate details of her private life. Her loneliness and desire for intimacy help explain why she gets involved with the drifter and becomes vulnerable to his wiles. Her interactions with the drifter are mostly passive. She agrees to his suggestion that they have a drink in her flat; later, she acquiesces to his request to move in. Rather than confront him about his failure to pay her friend Mrs. Douglas, she pays the hotel keeper out of her own money. Lacking the nerve to lock the drifter out of her home or ask him to leave, her passivity puts her in a frightening, potentially dangerous situation.
The Versfelds are a lonely, elderly couple whom the narrator frequently visits on Sundays. When the narrator becomes terrified that the drifter may return, she asks to stay a few days at their home.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Nadine Gordimer, Published by Gale Group, 2010