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The dictionary definition of the word conservationist is: a supporter or advocate of environmental preservation. Through close textual reference (and use of this definition) it can be said that the main character and the title of the novel, Mehring, would be best named the The Self-Preservationist as he is a more concerned and supportive of himself than his land.
This self-preservation is primarily shown through Mehring’s attitude to the farm. The farm is allegorical of his wealth and stature in the business community. Our first encounter with this attitude is when Mehring recalls when he first bought the land. He used it as a ‘tactic’ to attract a woman. He uses the farm as status symbol that would make him more sexually attractive to women.
“But the fact that here is a man who phones with a rather odd idea of asking a woman he’s recently met at lunch, casually somewhere, if she’d drive with him to look at a farm he’s thinking of buying – that was the right sort of move with a woman like her.” (Gordimer 1978:70)
The woman’s reaction to the land is somewhat different. She feels that the farm should be left as it is and not to be productive. Mehring on the other hand responds differently.
“No farm is beautiful unless it is productive.” (Gordimer 1978:70)
Again he sees the farm as an asset to bring in money – a business venture. In order for land to be productive it would have to be cultivated and managed thus undermining the true meaning of the word conservation.
A key example of this cultivation and production of the land would be when Mehring considers a future in planting oak trees and European Chestnuts thus planting trees that are not indigenous to the land and thus once again undermining the authentic sense of the term conservation. (Head 1994:100)
Even when Mehring considers the farm as a business venture he is not principally concerned with the land as such. To him if the land makes a loss it will simply be seen as a way of getting out of paying his taxes (Head 1994:100). In this way he exploits the land for his own selfish gain. He is less concerned with the future and productivity of the land. He gains whether on not the land is productive – either by making money off the produce or by the loss being tax deductible.
Similarly to the way that he exploits the land he exploits women for his own sexual gain.
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Nadine Gordimer, White South African people, Conservationist, Mehring
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