Born a Crime

Born a Crime Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What role does language play in Trevor Noah's experience of growing up in South Africa?

    Noah does not fit readily into any community or culture, and he often feels isolated and lonely as a result. He learns that while people cannot control their skin color or appearance, they can make an effort to learn different languages, and he comes to notice that “language, even more than color, defines who you are to people” (p. 56). By speaking different languages, Noah is able to gain acceptance with different groups who initially treat him like an outsider and mistrust or even threaten him. While it cannot provide him with a deep sense of belonging, speaking multiple languages allows him to build connections, be adaptable, and fit in with different people. He notes that he gained this skill from watching his mother: “I learned to use language like my mother did . . . It became a tool that served me my whole life” (p. 55).

  2. 2

    How does Trevor Noah's relationship with his father evolve over time?

    When Patricia first wants to conceive a child, she reassures Robert that he does not have to be involved in the child's life at all. However, after Noah is born, Robert realizes he does want to play a role in his son's life. Although he cannot openly own the relationship because it is technically illegal for him to be the father of a mixed-race child, Robert makes an effort to regularly spend time with his son, and the two have an affectionate relationship. However, as Noah gets older, the two drift apart, and the presence of Abel in Noah's life also makes maintaining a relationship more complicated. Robert eventually moves to another city, and the two lose touch entirely. Patricia, however, insists that Noah track Robert down, explaining that “‘he’s a piece of you [...] and if you don’t find him you won’t find yourself’” (p. 101). When he is twenty-four, Noah reconnects with his father and is moved to find out that Robert knows all about his career and has been taking an interest in him. He knows it will take time to rebuild their relationship, but he is open to trying.

  3. 3

    How is criminal activity depicted in the memoir?

    Noah grows up in a world where violence is a regular occurence, and he is taught by his mother not to let a fear of criminal activity prevent him from living his life. He does not, however, have much direct exposure to petty crime until he starts spending time in a notoriously rough and impoverished neighborhood called Alexandra. He realizes there that for people in poverty, engaging in criminal activity can be morally ambiguous since they have few or no other options. As Noah explains, "Crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate” (p. 209). Nonetheless, he eventually realizes that hustling and petty crime are not going to get him anywhere in life and that things like theft are hurtful to the victims.

  4. 4

    What is Trevor Noah's view of his mother? Does it change over time? If so, how? If not, what accounts for that constancy?

    As a child, Noah is often frustrated by his mother's strict discipline and attempt to monitor his behavior. However, he also loves when they have fun together, and he appreciates how she makes everyday life adventurous. Even from a young age, Noah knows that his mother will stand up for him when she believes in his perspective, and that she expects people to treat him with respect. As he grows older, Noah appreciates his mother's strength and resilience, but he also becomes frustrated as to why she chooses to stay with Abel even after Abel becomes abusive. Eventually, Noah grows apart from his mother because he cannot relate to her decisions. However, he always sees her as the center of his life and feels loving and protective towards her. As he grows older, he comes to see that people are complex, and he develops more respect for the way his mother has lived her life.

  5. 5

    What role does domestic violence play in the memoir?

    Noah gradually introduces the theme that his stepfather Abel physically abuses both him and his mother. He sees this specific form of violence as part of a wider pattern of violence, exacerbated by social factors. Abel's problems with alcohol and violence are exacerbated by the fact that he is unsuccessful in his career and feels emasculated by the fact that Patricia is the breadwinner in the family. His traditional ideology around gender roles also makes him angry when Patricia refuses to listen to him or be submissive. While Noah clearly sees Abel as personally responsible for the violence he commits, he also notes that the legal and police systems in South Africa neither help nor support his mother. Patricia tries to report the violence, but the police refuse to help her, and her own mother encourages her to stay with her abusive husband. All of this context means that Patricia has few options for recourse.