17 pages 34 minutes read

Nadine Gordimer

The Train From Rhodesia

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1952

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “The Train from Rhodesia”

“The Train from Rhodesia” is a short story by Nadine Gordimer, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. The story originally appeared in The Soft Voice of the Serpent, her first collection of stories, published in 1953 and used as the basis for this study guide.

The story takes place in a train station in an unnamed African village. The station is surrounded by beggars and by vendors selling carved wooden animals. A stationmaster sits in his office, while his wife sits on the veranda of their nearby home. Their children run back and forth between the station and the house.

A train enters the station, but no one leaves or boards. Passengers, if they choose, can bargain with the vendors on the station platform from the train’s windows. One young woman on the train admires a carved lion offered by an elderly vendor. Her new husband (we assume they are on their honeymoon) tries to buy the lion for her but finds the price too expensive. The woman tells her husband to “leave it” (45).

The story’s perspective shifts from the couple to the native people in the village and then to the other passengers on the train. The stationmaster’s children collect loaves of bread from the train’s guard and bring them back to their mother. An unnamed native man walks the length of the train to joke with the conductor and the stationmaster. Some passengers remain in their cabins or the train’s dining car while others bargain with the vendors.

As the train prepares to leave, the husband haggles with the vendor one last time. He flings a small sum of coins at the vendor, who then gives him the lion. Back in their cabin, the husband presents the lion to his wife, thinking that she will be appreciative and proud of his bargaining skills. Instead, she is appalled that he would exploit a desperate man in that way. She feels shame and loneliness at having acquired this beautifully carved animal for so little: “The heat of shame mounted through her legs and body and sounded in her ears like the sound of sand pouring” (47).