‘‘Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants’’ is written in first-person as one individual’s account of her experiences. Because there is no objective or omniscient viewpoint, the narrator is the reader’s only source of information—the reader knows only what the narrator knows or chooses to tell. This narrative device enhances the sense of mystery surrounding the character of the drifter, since the narrator learns comparatively little about him, declining even to mention his name.
Gordimer is employing the technique of the ‘‘unreliable narrator,’’ one whose awareness or understanding of situations and other characters is limited or untrustworthy. In the first paragraph, the narrator claims that ‘‘to myself I admit everything.’’ However, her racial prejudices, signaled from early in the story, severely skew her perception of Jack’s role in the events she recounts. She seems uneasy about confiding in Jack and surprised by the intelligence he displays—all she can think to say is, ‘‘sometimes you find yourself talking to that boy as if he was a white person.’’ Jack’s astute assessment of the narrator’s predicament, and the cunning way he helps get her out of it, are revealed to the reader, although they seem to remain obscure to the narrator. In this way, Gordimer allows her reader to separate from and transcend the narrator’s limited consciousness, and this is key to the story’s effectiveness.
The action of the story revolves around the way the drifter inserts himself into the narrator’s life, eventually causing her to fear for her personal safety. But the story’s opening offers no sense of threat. Gordimer builds suspense gradually, using ominous hints that point to a slowly gathering storm.
For example, when the narrator first meets the drifter in the office of the petrol station, she asks Jack to stay in the room. In their first encounter, the drifter leaves his watch for a deposit and says ‘‘It’s a gold one.’’ The narrator can see that the watch is a fake, but decides to give the drifter the benefit of the doubt. These early signs point both to the drifter’s shifty character and the narrator’s passive nature. This dynamic repeats itself when the drifter invites himself to stay in the narrator’s apartment, admitting that he left the New Park Hotel without paying. The narrator makes no protest and even pays his hotel bill. By this point it is apparent that the narrator is placing herself in a dangerous situation. The suspense reaches a climax as the narrator acquires a feeling of being menaced but seems to lack the wherewithal to protect herself.
Dramatic irony results from language or events that reveal meaning to the reader in a way that may not be apparent to the characters involved. It is a powerful feature of literary art, and one used well by Gordimer. Irony is a classic device of satire and social commentary and is pervasive in Gordimer’s fiction. The main irony in ‘‘Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants’’ stems from the narrator’s relationship to Jack. Even though she talks to him about the drifter throughout the story and is influenced by his views during her crisis, she fervently believes that she has nobody to talk to. Even in the last paragraph of the story, the narrator claims that she ‘‘never breathed a word to anybody about it.’’ The apparent contradiction reveals, with sad irony, the blinders caused by the narrator’s racist worldview—blinders strong enough that they seem to make the character oblivious to her own experience.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Nadine Gordimer, Published by Gale Group, 2010