The Diamond Mine
Growing up is a very influential, powerful experience. New experiences, new feelings and new desires are discovered every day. The short story “The Diamond Mine” is strongly influenced by this theme and the reader follows the girl Tilla as she grows from girl to woman.
When the reader starts reading the story, a very intimate mood is immediately established as the author, Nadine Gordimer, begins it with the words “I’ll call her Tilla, you may call her by another name. You might think you knew her” (“The Diamond Mine”, p. 1, l. 1); the narrator speaks directly to the reader and this helps the reader to accept the very intimate moments that are portrayed later in the text. The intimate mood also accentuates Tilla’s experiences in the story. As it is set “during the war, your war, the Forties” (p. 1, l. 4) the relationship between Tilla and the soldier boy may seem quite tame compared to what is shown and written today but this atmosphere helps by giving the actions and experiences more impact. This relatively modest period in time also helps emphasize Tilla’s innocence as a girl. The quote above also uses the words “your war” and thereby seems to create a connection to the girl Tilla more than the soldier boy; it is her thoughts, feelings and experiences that the reader shares during the story – in fact, we are not even given the soldier boy’s name. He himself does not seem to be important – it’s the act of “growing up” and discovering these new things that is significant.
As mentioned, Tilla is only a girl. However, during the course of the story she gets to experience her first love, her first boyfriend, her first kiss and even has her first sexual experience. All this with a soldier boy who is actually more of a man as he is eight years older than her. One of the first thoughts that springs to mind is “what does the parents say to this?” Whereas they would probably be against such a relationship between their 16 year old daughter and a young man they barely know, they seem to have no knowledge of it. On the “couple’s” first date to the cinema the parents think “it is thoughtful of this visiting friend of the family” (p. 1, l. 21-22). He is trusted and seen as “an adult along with them, and only eight years older than her, young enough to be her contemporary” (p. 1, l. 14-15).
As they begin dating the change in Tilla also begins – this is symbolized with a situation where she and he walk home “where she used to race her bicycle up and down under the same trees” (p. 1, l. 35). The change between girlhood and the beginning of womanhood is empathized by this comparison and the clear contrast between the situations.
Tilla’s in-between-situation with being a girl on one side and being a woman on the other is also shown as – even though they kiss on one of their dates – she still makes him cocoa. She needs him to guide her and she mentions more than once that “he’s taking care of her” (p. 2, l. 39) – when his guidance seems out of reach she is lost; she wants to rebel, “she… stood up appalled at the strength to strike the receiver from her mother and the inability of a good girl to do so” (p. 2, l. 57-58). She is still a child who won’t go up against her parents. However, she will get the chance to see him one last time – though her parents will be present.
The soldier’s camp is located on a mine property – and this might be one of the things that the title “The Diamond Mine” is referring to. It could also be referring directly to the soldier; he is like a diamond to her, bright and shining, leading her through the darkness, guiding her to become a woman. That he “is” a diamond is also hinted at before the arrival at the camp; “he will never turn dark, his skin retains the sun, glows. Him.” (p. 1, l. 30). “The Diamond Mine” might also symbolize the journey that Tilla has gone through and will go through as a young adult; it’s hard work but the experiences and sensations are worth it – they are like diamonds. The last possible meaning I will mention here is of a more sexual nature; the words might also be referring to Tilla’s sex, as this is the last rite of passage that she must go through with the soldier – a sexual experience.
The circumstances can’t be said to be romantic; on the backseat of the family car with the father and mother in the front. This also seems to point towards the possibility of the soldier not being what matters – the act itself is. This is also hinted at as they clasp hands: “It isn’t a clasp against imminent parting, it’s got nothing to do with any future, it belongs in the urgent purity of this present.” (p. 3, l. 106-107). The purity mentioned here may be two things – it may be the purity that Tilla wants to get rid of; to be a woman she can’t be pure, her innocence must be lost and she must become – at least sexually – tainted. It might also be referring to “pure desire”. The future doesn’t matter; they hold hand because that is what they want right now. And thus, Tilla has her first sexual experience, she is a woman, not a child, she is free, she has been found and isn’t lost in the darkness.
Hereafter comes the last of Tilla’s “first times”: Her first goodbye, the first heartbreak, that the reader can clearly feel in the ending lines; “If he had been killed in that war they would have heard, through the grandmother’s connections. Is it still you; somewhere, old?” (p. 4, l. 162-164).
This story gives the reader a great empathy with Tilla – it seems dreamy, sketchy, with little to no actual talking during the whole story it allows the reader to really concentrate on the feelings that Tilla has as she changes from girl to woman. The sensuous expressions used to describe Tilla’s feelings during her sexual awakening accents the intimate mood and the descriptions make the reader feel as if she is really there – or makes her remember their own passage from child into adult, the rite that they went through; The excitement, the uncertainty and the joy that is connected to this experienced that all girls have or will experience.