Born a Crime

Born a Crime Literary Elements



Setting and Context

South Africa in the period from the late 1980s to roughly 2009, overlapping with the period leading up to and following the fall of apartheid.

Narrator and Point of View

The memoir is narrated by Trevor Noah in the first-person, retrospective point of view. All events are told from his perspective, and readers have access to his thoughts and emotions.

Tone and Mood

The tone is often one of dark humor; Noah highlights funny episodes from his childhood and adolescence, but he also uses humor to show how dysfunctional and traumatic many of his experiences were. At other times, the tone is quite meditative, reflective, and didactic, as Noah uses the form of the celebrity memoir to draw attention to South African history, political injustice, and racial injustice.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Trevor Noah is the protagonist; his stepfather, Abel, is the antagonist.

Major Conflict

The major conflict occurs as Abel tries to dominate and control Noah's mother, Patricia, while Noah urges her to leave him and free herself from domestic abuse. A secondary conflict occurs as Noah tries to find an identity and career path, despite occupying an ambiguous position in South African society and having grown up in poverty amidst systemic racism.


The climax occurs when Abel shoots Patricia, his ex-wife and Noah's mother.


Abel's violent tendencies are foreshadowed early in the memoir when Noah explains that secondhand cars have always been a source of trouble for him: because of their car's tendency to break down, Noah and his mother first met Abel. This connection suggests that Abel will not be a positive presence in their lives. Later, there is more foreshadowing when Noah recalls that when his mother first shares her plan to marry Abel, he tells her that he does not think it is a good idea.




Noah often alludes to political and historical events related to the history of South Africa; he also alludes to elements of popular culture such as hit music and forms of technology like video games and CD writers in order to give readers a vivid sense of the specific time period he is describing.


See the separate "Imagery" section of this ClassicNote.


Noah often feels that his mother is treating him harshly, whereas her sternness actually prepares him to be resilient and able to survive in a world where he will often be treated unfairly. An additional paradox is that Noah's "in-between" identity makes him both alienated and outcast, but also highly versatile and adaptable, able to move between different worlds and fit in with widely different individuals.



Metonymy and Synecdoche