Mine Boy

Mine Boy Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13 – 16


Chapter 13 begins with Xuma waking to find Ma Plank in his room. She is cooking and Eliza is gone. Ma Plank informs him that Eliza took a long train journey and will not return: she tried, but she couldn’t stay with Xuma. The world seems strange and blank to Xuma. Ma Plank gives him food and he eats mechanically. He orders Ma Plank to leave the room. She does, and Maisy soon enters. She asks if he’ll go to work but he says he doesn’t have to work until Sunday night, and it is Saturday.

Maisy tells him to dress; she wants him to go dancing with her friends in Hoopvlei again, and says Leah will come too. Xuma says he has no interest and asks her to leave, which she does, in tears. Twenty minutes later Leah bursts in and reprimands Xuma for his weakness over Eliza’s departure. She makes him get up and go for a walk, joking that when he comes back maybe she’ll take him to bed. The point of view stays with Leah after Xuma goes out. Her mood shifts abruptly and she cries as she laments how Eliza has left. She goes out for a walk as well.

Chapter 14 returns to Xuma’s point of view as he walks the streets and thinks about Eliza’s absence, his mind slowly filtering all the things they’ve done together and will never do again. He goes to his room, but it is too painful to be there, so he returns to Leah’s, where beer-selling is underway. Leah suggests he get drunk, but Xuma says he doesn’t want to. Johannes and Lena come into the room. Johannes lifts a man by his throat and threatens to kill him. Leah slaps his face and Johannes drops the man and begins to cry along with Lena. Leah laughs at the absurdity of such a strong man brought so easily to tears.

Leah asks Xuma to accompany her while she finds out the police’s plans. On the walk, she notes his brooding and says she misses and loves Eliza too. The black police officer Leah knows informs her that the raid will happen the next day in the afternoon. She pays him five pounds and he cycles off. Back at Leah’s, Maisy takes Xuma on a walk and Leah reminds him to come back and help move the tins of beer. They walk to the colored school’s grass field and lie down. Xuma reflects on the fireflies back home and realizes that he will never go back, because everything is different now that Eliza has left him.

Maisy confesses that for months now she has lived with the pain of loving Xuma despite him loving someone else. She does not know whose pain is worse, but it has been awful for her. She says she knew Eliza would do something like this, and now that it has happened Maisy is not happy. She collapses on her arms and cries. Xuma thinks there is nothing he can do.

At Leah’s, they help dig in the yard to bury the tins of beer. But as they do so, suddenly police descend on them with flashlights. A white police officer nicknamed the Fox calls Leah’s name and they go inside to discuss what has happened. The Fox says no one was informing; they simply knew Leah had someone to tip her off, so they set a trap by making false plans. They had been waiting on the roof two hours; now they have enough evidence to put Leah away for six months.

Leah requests that the Fox leave her friends alone and take her only. He agrees. Leah instructs Ma Plank to sell everything and save the money for a new place for when she is out; she tells her not to waste money on lawyers. Leah says goodbye to everyone individually, telling Xuma he is a son to her. As she leaves, the Fox apologizes and she laughs defiantly, calling him a fool. When she is gone Xuma reflects that Eliza is gone, and now so is Leah.

Chapter 15 begins with Xuma smoking a cigarette at dawn, having just left the mines. He reflects on Leah’s trial, for which he was present. The judge sentenced her to nine months and her photo was published in the white newspaper. Outside the courthouse, a young person asked aloud why white men are allowed to sell beer without going to prison. He suggested that there should be bars for black people too. All Xuma knows is the tiredness that has filled his body ever since the night Leah was taken by the police.

Paddy joins Xuma for a cigarette and discusses the sickness he has observed in Xuma’s mind. He says that Xuma must not be afraid of his thoughts, and that he should fight for what he wants. Xuma says how can Paddy understand when he is white. He does not know what it is like to be asked for your pass by police, to be thrown out of white-only establishments, to have known Leah and her kindness. Paddy understands with his head, but Xuma understands with his pain, which he says is true understanding. He asks how he can be Paddy’s friend when Paddy and his people do these things to Xuma’s people.

Paddy says Xuma is right, but insists that Xuma must start thinking of himself as a man first and a black man second. Paddy says the people of the country harm black people because they think of themselves as white people first.

Xuma does not understand, but tells Paddy he is a good and kind man. Slightly angered, Paddy leaves and says he is not trying to be kind. Once he goes, Xuma heads to Malay Camp and thinks over Paddy’s words. He reflects that to think as a man first would mean people are without color. He doesn’t understand how to think of people without color because people are black, white or brown. All people have color. But he thinks it is a nice thought—no black, no white, only people. If it were so, he could go anywhere without being stopped for his identification pass, and Leah wouldn’t be in jail, and Eliza would have stayed with him.

Xuma is filled with lightness and gaiety as he imagines a world without color. He sees happiness and cooperation, people working side by side, and drinking and laughing and eating together. He goes to bed thinking if only it were so—a good world full of happiness.

The novel’s final chapter begins with Xuma waking in darkness. He remembers his talk with Paddy and the dream he had afterward, but Xuma knows now it is a mere fantasy because the white man would not let it happen. Xuma reacts with a feeling of hatred for white people and for the Red One for putting such an idea in his head. Xuma is starving, so he goes to a miserable eating house and pays a shilling to a filthy man for a hunk of hot meat. The place is full of fat flies. He reflects on how white people have pleasant eating houses in every street and aren’t crammed in like this.

Feeling lonely, Xuma walks to Maisy’s place of work. He would like to talk with her about this idea of being a man without color. But he knows it is wrong to run to her, and the anxiety gets the better of him when he arrives. He turns and runs back to Malay Camp to lie in his room and think before work.

At the mines, there is chaos and confusion. Xuma learns there has been an accident and that Chris and Johannes are underground. Xuma and Paddy decide not to wait for the engineers and head down in a cage elevator together. Minutes later the two emerge carrying Chris’s and Johannes’s dead bodies. A mine boy cries that they kept the structure from caving so the others could escape.

Paddy and Xuma smoke while the engineers assess the collapse. They come up to the surface saying it was only a minor collapse where water softened the structure, and that the men died from panicking. They say the mine is safe for the next shift, it just needs some clearing up. Paddy knocks the engineer out with a single punch. Xuma refuses to let more men go down until engineers secure the passage. The manager says this is a strike and that he has called the police to jail Xuma. The men shout encouragement to Xuma, and he feels strong and free, like a man—strong enough to be a man without color.

The manager says that everyone striking should go on one side, and everyone who isn’t should go to the other. The indunas and white men go to the manager’s side while the black and colored men go with Xuma. Paddy is the only white man who stands with Xuma, having reflected that Di was wrong about Xuma, that he has shown leadership and is a man.

Police arrive in vans and begin beating the striking workers with their batons. Xuma is struck in the head and suddenly his brain clears and he understands that he must run away. He hears Paddy call out to him not to run but Xuma can’t stop moving. He runs all the way to Maisy’s. She takes him into her room, where Ma Plank has also been living. She attends to the wound on his head and he says that he must go back. Paddy is going to jail for standing up for Xuma’s people, and so, if Xuma is to be a man, he must go too. He says he must tell the white people how he and other black people feel. Then he will feel like a man.

Maisy says she understands. Xuma tells her that she has always been good to him, and that he has forgotten Eliza and it is her he loves. He asks her to wait for him until he returns from jail. She says she loves him too and will wait however long it takes. Together they leave and walk to the police station.

The novel ends with the point of view leaving that of any character. The narrator describes the lights switching off one by one in Malay Camp, Vrededorp, and other dark places of Johannesburg and of South Africa. The streets are empty and the houses are quiet. Only shadows move and the quiet hum of the night hangs over the city and the towns.


Eliza’s odd behavior beginning at the end of chapter twelve—first cold toward Leah and Xuma, briefly disappearing, then suddenly warm to Xuma—is explained in chapter thirteen by the revelation that she has abandoned Xuma. Despite Ma Plank’s kindness in breaking the news to Xuma and offering to take care of him with food and consolation, Xuma rejects her help and tells her to leave. Xuma rejects Maisy’s kindness too, sending her away in tears. In this way, the effects of Eliza’s assimilationist rejection of Xuma reverberate beyond him, sowing discord among the immediate community.

Although Leah acts tough with Xuma, the author’s decision to leave the point of view with her after she sends him out for a walk gives insight into her true feelings: Eliza’s decision to leave saddens her too; Eliza’s rejection of Xuma is a rejection of her blackness, meaning she must also separate herself from Leah, her only family.

The theme of work arises when Xuma returns to Leah’s after his walk to find beer-selling underway again. Despite Daddy’s recent death and Eliza’s departure, the need for money means Leah has no time to grieve, and must return to her business of selling beer.

The motif of police corruption comes up when Leah bribes the policeman five pounds for the information about the upcoming raid. The theme of kindness is touched on when, after Leah’s gracious acceptance of her arrest, Leah has kind words for everyone close to her.

In the fifteenth chapter, the theme of racial oppression arises when Xuma overhears a young man asking aloud why white men can sell alcohol and black people can’t. Leah’s case highlights the absurdity of how a racist criminal justice system creates the conditions in which it penalizes black people for actions that would not be considered crimes if white people did them.

The theme of racial oppression continues as Xuma and Paddy discuss the differences between white and black people. Though Xuma begins the conversation convinced that there are fundamental and essential differences between them, Paddy steadily convinces Xuma that it is possible to think of people as equal, no matter their skin color. Xuma mulls the idea over and is filled with hope and levity when he considers a world in which people wouldn't be divided by race. He understands that, in such a world, he would not encounter discrimination, Leah wouldn’t be in jail, and Eliza would have stayed with him. In this epiphanic moment, Xuma understands that all of his problems stem from a worldview which divides people into a hierarchy based on the prejudice of white colonists.

Xuma’s fantasy of being a man without color is undercut by the harsh realities of his life. The food available to him is far worse, and the mine he works at considers the lives of its black and colored workers less valuable than the gold they are extracting. Xuma is empowered when he and Paddy stand together with the workers against the oppressors who run an unsafe mine, but his resolve is quickly shaken by the sudden eruption of police violence.

The novel ends on an ambiguous note: though Xuma has run from the police, he is empowered to believe that if he turns himself in he will be able to express his ideas of a society not divided by racism and economic disparity. Rather than showing the outcome of Xuma’s noble act, the author zooms out from the narrow frame of Xuma’s perspective to show Johannesburg from the sky. The final image of empty streets and quiet houses is ominous, and suggests that despite Xuma’s desire to change an unjust society, the greater forces of capitalism, colonialism, and racism have a far greater impact on South African culture. Peter Abrahams’s ominous ending turned out to be prescient: two years after the publication of Mine Boy, a period of institutionalized white supremacy and racial segregation in South Africa known as apartheid began.