Truth or Consequences
(on the short story Keeping Fit)
Life is a mixture of truths, choices, and consequences. Turning points in a life occur when truths are seen, consequences are realized, and choices are made. It may be a vague insinuation of a truth that has never been seen, or it may be a blunt reality that is forced onto a person. It may lead to a welcome change that is healthy and favorable, or it may lead to an uninvited transformation that is ultimately regretful. Seeing a truth completely causes the realization that society is not as balanced as it appears. In the short story “Keeping Fit”, Nadine Gordimer shows how a life can be changed by a simple event that sheds light to a simple, if not cruel, truth. The life of the running man was nearly perfect. He had all he wanted and didn’t realize the suffering that occurred on the other side of the town. The unforeseen visit to the impoverished part of town forces the running man to recognize the fact that unlike his sheltered life, the world is rarely just and fair.
The life of the running man is one of pleasure and contentment. He is a stereotypical white-man, and fulfills all aspects of the character that was created for him. He is a wealthy broker that has a family, a home and a life free from injustice. In his world, he is free from the pain and suffering that many other people have to suffer. Since most short stories have little character development, it is up to the reader to create the character through hints and actions that the protagonist performs. In this story, through the running man’s thoughts and actions while he was trapped, we begin to understand why this event changed him so much. Before the incident with the mob and the poor part of town, he had gotten on with his life by ignoring the fact that there were victims, and not only that, but he hadn’t been exposed to those who actually suffered. He was blind to the fact that such a poor state of existence was possible. He constantly reminded himself to never go on the other side of the highway. When the mob of people uncontrollable swept him into it, it was a shock he wasn’t prepared for. The only thoughts that raced through his head were to escape. When he was finally free of the place, he realized not only that there were people who were suffering, but that there was a total lack of justice in that part of town. The police were the ones that were hunting people down and beating them to death. He realized how unfair humanity can be, and how lucky he is to be living the life he living.
Breathe. Breathe. Those are the thoughts that are going through the running man’s head while he starts his morning jog. He enters the jog casually, because it’s probably something he’s been doing for quite sometime. He jogs by the poor part of town, separated by the four-lane road, knowing that he’s never to go on the other side. Not because he knows what’s there, but because he’s heard things, and knows that white people don’t dare enter. When the mob of people suddenly burst from the town, he doesn’t know what to expect. He uncontrollably gets caught up with them, and can’t get free. He notices another black man that is being beaten by the others. Then, as briefly and as suddenly as it began, the mob leaves, and he finds himself on the other side of the highway, trapped in the slummy, condemned part of town, with a corrugated metal fence preventing him from reaching the town that was comforting to him. His identity was stripped from him, and the only recognition he finds for himself was that he was a white-man. His fear was then deepened when the three black people he sees all flee from him. He was in an unknown environment, where lack of identity and lack of knowledge stripped away any remaining sense of dignity and courage he had left. Thankfully, a kind black lady comes to his rescue and offers him shelter. She then provides the escape that he used to get away. Finally, when he arrived at his protected home, he is faced with a decision. He can forget the incident and pretend that it never happened, or he can realize that it is true and learn from it. If he ignored, it would mean that his sheltered life would remain unchanged and that he would still be blind to the fact that there is extreme injustice going on. If he realized what it meant, and chose to remember it, he would be infected with its disease for the rest of his life, although he would then understand what an unjust, inhumane race we are. He decides to live with this event and remember it, even if it is harder then forgetting about it.
It could be said that maybe a mind would not let you forget such a traumatic event, and that may be true, and we see that this man remembers it, painfully. He will be forced to live with the consequences of his event for the rest of his life. In their room, every possession they have reminds him of what the other families don’t have, and he feels disgusted by it. He is saturated in so much wealth he feels sick. When the bird is trapped in the wall, and trying to scratch its way out, it reminds him of the event, and he can’t face it. He desperately searches for the bird, and tries to think of ways to get it out, but comes up with nothing. Then a sarcastic remark from his wife reminds him of how blind she is. He has to live with this truth now for the rest of his life. This shows significance because it proves that an event that is threatening and hostile can provide a glance into a truth that is otherwise unknown. The jogger feels now as if he has been cheated. All his belongings are worthless to him now, when before he felt so proud about them. He now has to change the way he lives because of an event that he had no control over. It demonstrates that the power of an incident can change a way the person is.
The running man’s turning point in his life was when he entered the poor part of town. It changed him from a person who took everything for granted into a person who knew that humanity could be brutally unfair and unjust. He lived a sheltered life and was a typical white-collar worker who had everything he needed. Through this event, he realized that everything he had he took for granted, and that so many people were dying for no reason. The police were murdering their own people. He made a choice to remember this event and apply it to his life, and he then had to deal with the consequences. It proved to be significant and showed that a person who thinks they are strong and wise, can be proven otherwise.