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Loot by Nadine Gordimer: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:39 Summary of 'Loot'
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

You may have seen looting on television. It is the topic of Nadine Gordimer's short story, ''Loot.'' In this lesson, we'll examine this story and break down its multiple meanings.

Taking

You may have seen the images on television: people running in and out of shops with broken windows and sometimes flames, grabbing whatever they can carry: televisions, food, clothing. This looting, or stealing of goods, often happens in protest or following some period of unrest. We've seen it in Los Angeles, Baltimore, even overseas.

It's a concept that author and Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer echoes in her short story, ''Loot'' (which is the opening story from her book Loot and Other Stories). Yet, this story has a slight twist. Let's take a closer look.

Summary of ''Loot''

Gordimer introduces us to a natural disaster - an earthquake - at the beginning of the story. But, this is no ordinary earthquake - it is ''the most powerful ever recorded since the invention of the Richter scale made possible for us to measure apocalyptic warnings.''

So powerful is this earthquake that instead of causing flooding like many earthquakes do, it causes the sea to draw back, so that ''the most secret level of our world lay revealed.'' At the bottom of the sea are all sorts of treasures: televisions, computers, pieces of houses and aircraft, and downed ships.

The people who have been impacted by the great earthquake, upon seeing the treasure, become less concerned with their household damage and rush to the sea to grab as many of these treasures as they can.

Looting

It becomes a free-for-all affair. People are taking simply because they can, without thought of what the objects are or why they may want them. No one is talking about the strange occurrence of nature and how there is nothing alive in the sea. Suddenly, while in the midst of their looting, the sea falls and swallows everyone up whole.

Suddenly, the author shifts perspective and introduces us to a retired man who managed to survive the earthquake in his home high above the city. Though living in a well-appointed home, the man wants just one thing: ''a certain object (what) all his life.''

Seeing his opportunity, when the sea draws back, he rushes to join the other looters. The author tells us this man is unlike the other looters, however, because he's looking for that one specific object. The object is likely a mirror, though we can't be sure. The author references the desired object by quoting: ''(A mirror?)''

Just as he finds it, the wave comes and crashes down upon all the looters, burying them - along with their treasures - under the sea. The man, the author tells us, is famed: ''His name well-known in the former regime circles in the capital is not among the survivors.'' He has succumbed to the same fate. The author mentions other casualties, ''dropped from planes during the dictatorship so that with the accomplice of the sea they would never be found.''

There are no memorials to any of those who died. They are simply buried ''full fathom five,'' a nod to Shakespeare's The Tempest, meaning that everything is buried five fathoms (or 10 yards) deep under the water, irretrievable.

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