Born a Crime

Born a Crime Metaphors and Similes

"the Xhosa played chess with the white man" (pg. 4-5) (Metaphor)

Noah uses this metaphor to describe the way in which one African tribe, the Xhosa people, engaged with white Europeans in South Africa. "Playing chess" implies that the Xhosa engaged in a long-term, intellectually calculated strategy for trying to regain power, rather than engaging in more impulsive and violent acts of resistance. The metaphor expresses how the Xhosa people understood that victory is gained through a series of moves that build on one another. The metaphor also has an extra dimension since chess was traditionally considered a European game, so describing the Xhosa political strategy as "playing chess" implies that they learned from the political strategies of their oppressors and are using it against them.

"Like the gazelle runs from the lions, I ran." (pg. 16) (Simile)

Noah uses this simile to describe how he runs after leaping out of a moving car when he and his mother are threatened by the men driving the minibus. The simile reflects the dramatic tension of the moment and the terror Noah is feeling. Even though he is too young to understand exactly why the situation was precarious, he knows that his mother would not have made them take this risk unless it was truly necessary. By comparing himself to an animal feeling from predators, Noah highlights the danger of the situation. It also reflects the one advantage he has: like the lions, the men driving the bus are much bigger and stronger, but Noah is faster, and as long as he can outrun them, he will be okay.

"Imagine being thrown out of an airplane" (pg. 31) (Metaphor)

In this metaphor, Noah vividly conveys how he felt when he learned that many other mixed-race children born during apartheid fled from South Africa and grew up abroad. He compares the experience to needing to survive being thrown out of an airplane, only to later learn that someone could have simply used a parachute. The comparison is one of only a few moments in the memoir where Noah makes it clear how much he suffered growing up under apartheid: by comparing this experience to falling out of an airplane and breaking bones, Noah makes it clear that it was traumatic and painful, and that he wonders if it would have been easier and safer to simply have grown up abroad.

"I became a chameleon" (pg. 56) (Metaphor)

Noah uses this metaphor to describe how he uses language and an ambivalent racial identity to move fluidly between different groups. A chameleon is an animal that can literally change its color to blend in with its surroundings. The metaphor adds nuance to what Noah is expressing because, in a society where race and the color of someone's skin are used as a rigid way to define them, Noah can metaphorically change his color by adapting his language, mannerisms, or the way he speaks. The metaphor helps to highlight that race is an arbitrary category that is not as fixed and immutable as people often believe. The metaphor is also apt because the main reason chameleons change their color is to disguise themselves from predators. Likewise, Noah changes the way he is racially interpreted in order to keep himself safe.

"It was an ocean of black, like someone had opened a tap and all the black had come pouring out" (pg. 57) (Simile)

Noah uses this simile to describe what he observes on his first day at the H.A. Jack public primary school. Because Noah was placed in gifted classes, he had seen primarily white and a few Indian students in his classes and wondered where all the black students were. At lunch time, he sees that a vast number of black students are actually enrolled, but they just attend different classes. The simile of a tap being turned on and water pouring out describes the abruptness and volume of the black students becoming visible. The simile also describes the relief Noah feels when he sees other students with whom he identifies. Someone who has turned on a tap would usually be happy and reassured when water came pouring out, and Noah feels the same way when he realizes there are many black students at the school.