Living in a world of conflict and betrayal, people search to measure themselves against the accomplishments of those before them. Rosa Burger in Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer has always seen herself as an extension of her father Lionel's life and politics. Rosa grows up in a home under constant surveillance by the South African government for she is a part of a leading communist family in the liberation movement. Her parents are detained for their political beliefs; her father dies in prison and her mother, whose health suffered from her time in jail, eventually dies. As an Afrikaner activist's daughter, everyone has expectations of her as the history of her parents" anti-apartheid beliefs constantly haunts her. South Africans, both whites and oppressed blacks, struggle to find an identity.
Although Rosa Burger does not want to emulate her father, the two are very much alike. To different degrees, Rosa and Lionel are leaders and committed to their republics. While Rosa is quiet and desires to stay out of the spotlight, Lionel is a tiresome radical that fights for what he believes in no matter the consequences. Burger's daughter did not stay in South Africa in the wake of this political unrest, which her father was a part of; instead she escapes to Britain and France to free herself of exploitation. Lionel is a stable center around which Communists gather to form unions and create racial harmony. As a member of the Communist Party of South Africa, Lionel organizes Africans, coloreds, and Indians in a strike against exploitation and contemptuous disregard of the needs, as workers and human beings, of the 400,000 black men in the mining industry. Although Rosa is committed to her native country, her father will go to greater lengths to ensure justice is won in the end. Rosa is shaped by the demonstrations at Soweto and Sharpeville, realizing the rottenness of the system and the necessity for change, even though she does not participate in these protests against society.