Born a Crime

Born a Crime Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Mulberries (symbol)

While growing up in the Eden Park neighborhood, Trevor is bullied one day by a group of colored boys. They find him playing near a mulberry tree, and they taunt him while throwing mulberries at him. Trevor goes home in tears and covered in berry juice, which leads to his mother joking that he finally looks Black. The mulberries symbolize Trevor's inability to fit in and belong to any single racial grouping. Even though he physically most resembles a colored person, the other colored kids reject him because he speaks and behaves in ways they associate with being Black. When he is covered with mulberry juice, staining his skin, Trevor is almost able to "pass" as belonging clearly to one group where he could find a sense of identity, but underneath the juice, he is still someone other. Whatever his physical appearance might suggest, on the inside, Trevor feels fundamentally different from everyone he encounters.

Patricia's second-hand car (symbol)

After the end of apartheid, when Patricia and Trevor move to the Eden Park neighborhood, she buys a second-hand car. The car symbolizes the greater freedom they experience after the end of apartheid, along with Patricia's desire to give her son many enriching experiences. In Trevor's very early childhood, Patricia had to pretend that Trevor was not her child; now, the two can publicly be a family and go on outings together. Even though the car is old and does not work very well, it gives them a sense of adventure and possibility. It therefore also symbolizes the way Patricia always makes the most of whatever opportunities life gives her.

Driveways in Soweto (symbol)

Growing up, Trevor spends a lot of time in the Black neighborhood of Soweto, where his grandparents, aunts, and cousins live. This neighborhood was artificially created by the apartheid regime and Black people were forcibly deported to live there. Most people in the neighborhood live in poverty, but they do what they can to make life more comfortable for themselves. Almost no one owns a car, but many houses have driveways nonetheless. The driveways symbolize the resilience and hopefulness of Black South Africans, who are determined to work towards better socio-economic futures even when the state puts vast limitations and obstacles in their way. At the same time, it symbolizes the injustice and tragedy of so many people being unable to live their lives the way they would like to.

The stolen digital camera (symbol)

For a period after graduating from high school, Trevor makes a living selling pirated CDs and DJ'ing parties in the neighborhood of Alexandra. He is exposed to an economic system that largely relies on petty crime such as stealing small items, and he doesn't think much of it. One day, however, Trevor is shown a digital camera someone has stolen from a tourist, and as he looks through the photos, he realizes that this theft has impacted a real person. The camera symbolizes the moment at which Trevor feels an increased sense of moral responsibility and realizes that he does not want his livelihood to be reliant on actions that hurt others.

Language (motif)

The use and complexity of language are an important motif in the memoir. There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and many more are regularly spoken. It is common for conversations to be happening in multiple languages at the same time. Trevor discusses how the diversity of languages can be a source of chaos and confusion, but also how it can be a way to bond with different individuals. In interactions such as going to prom with Babiki, helping to translate for a man in jail, or preventing a group from assaulting and robbing him because he shows he can speak the same language, the complexities of living in a multi-lingual world are a consistent motif.