Empathy and Irony in “Keeping Fit” by Nadine Gordimer

by Héliane Ventura

This essay proposes a close textual analysis of “Keeping Fit”, a story published
in 1991 in Jump and Other Stories at a time when South Africa was in a
post-apartheid but pre-democratic situation. “Keeping Fit” is arguably one of
the most polarised and ironic short stories in the volume. I suggest that the
story challenges the polarisations that it installs by bringing about an ironic
and carnivalesque dissolution of boundaries while conjuring up a strong
sense of the uncanny, which destabilizes its own partitions and differences.
While the black protagonist is presented as empathetic and caring, the white
couple is described as selfish and indifferent, yet the open ending ironically
suggests the possibility of change and renewal.