The most important characters in the short story “Pink” by Judith Thompson are Lucy (the narrator) and Nellie (her dead nanny). The other characters mentioned in the text- Lucy’s parents, Nellie’s family, and other white and black people in South Africa— are mainly relevant for the social setting and the way Lucy relates to them.
Lucy is the main character and the narrator of the short story. Her outer characterisation presents her as “a ten-year-old white girl” (p. 175, l. 1) living in South Africa during the apartheid regime. The fact that she is white and her parents can afford a nanny, reflects the typical higher economic status of white people during the apartheid regime.
Lucy’s inner characterisation is conveyed indirectly, through her perspective on Nellie, on segregation, and on herself and her actions.
The way Lucy repeatedly cries Nellie’s name at the woman’s funeral (p. 175, ll. 3-5) suggests that the girl is deeply saddened by her nanny’s death. However, we also realise that Lucy has been taught that racism is a good thing and a natural part of life, and she is angry with Nellie for marching against the apartheid and getting killed:
…what you guys don’t understand, what you didn’t see, is apartheid is for YOU. IT’S FOR YOUR GUYS FEELINGS, see, like we got separate washrooms cause you like to spit, and if we said, ‘Eww yucch, don’t spit,’ it would hurt your feelings… (pp. 175-176, ll. 8-3)
Lucy’s perspective on racial discrimination is clearly naïve. She believes the apartheid is for black people’s own good, but the way she describes the situation suggests that she has been taught to believe the whites are superior.
Furthermore, although Lucy suspects that there is something wrong with the system and cannot understand why Nellie gets “paid less for the same job” (p. 176, l. 8), her mother easily persuades her that this is because black people do not need as much money as white people do.
Lucy cannot understand why Nellie chose to march against the apartheid because, from her point of view she was treated well in her family and their parents did her a lot of favours:
Nellie is a secondary character in the short story, and she is mostly presented from Lucy’s perspective. Her outer characterisation presents her as a “black nurse” (p. 175, l. 1), a married woman, and a mother of “four children” (p. 176, l. 33). At the time of the narration, she is already dead, as she was shot in a march against the apartheid regime. Consequently, her inner characterisation is constructed based on Lucy’s memories of her.
When Lucy was a small child, Nellie was a caring and nurturing nanny, always complying with the little girl’s wishes: “…your eyes used to look at me when I was little they would look at me like they were tickling me just tickling me all the time, like I was special…” (p. 176, ll. 24-26)