Mine Boy

Mine Boy Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4 – 6


Chapter four opens with Johannes and Xuma walking to the mines. Xuma reflects that Johannes is now a completely different person: when not drunk, he is taciturn. Unlike Saturday, the streets are empty. The point of view shifts between Xuma and Johannes’s contrasting thoughts: Xuma enjoys the peace, while Johannes hates the dead, empty streets, wishing there were people around.

The mine-dumps appear ahead. A group of mine workers march together toward the mine. They are led by indunas—mine policemen, whose duty it is to keep the men in order. Johannes explains that the mine men live in compounds, as the mine does not like to hire men from the city. Johannes says that white men fetch the mine workers from farms and rural areas and from Portugal and Rhodesia. Johannes is an exception: he is from the city, but he is the boss boy for a white man, so he doesn’t stay in the compounds. The indunas carry knobkerries and assagais—short sticks with a knob at the top, traditionally used as a weapon by the indigenous peoples of South Africa, and slender, iron-tipped, hardwood spears also used chiefly by southern African peoples. Johannes says they carry the weapons by law. Johannes and Xuma fall in line with the marching men.

Johannes’s boss, a white man named Chris, arrives on his bicycle. The two chat in a friendly way before Johannes introduces Xuma. Chris smiles then suddenly punches Xuma in the chest. Xuma raises his arms to fight instinctively. Chris reassures him that he was only testing to see if Xuma is a man. They shake hands and Chris gives Xuma and Johannes a cigarette to share. Chris says he will speak to the Red One about letting Xuma work.

An induna searches Xuma and a guard reluctantly gives him a stiff blue card that says: Pass Native Xuma, Gang Leader for Mr. Paddy O’Shea. Johannes puts on a hat with a lamp and disappears down an elevator cage, leaving Xuma to work with a group of fifty men led by an angry, unfriendly white man and two indunas. The white man commands Xuma to push a heavy truck that normally two men would push. Xuma does not know how to push it and must correct where he applies pressure to stop it from tipping over. Xuma shows his great strength, but receives a gash on his leg where the axle cut it. Chris tells Xuma to stop pushing and says an induna will take him to get his leg bandaged.

The Red One tells the white man that Xuma is his boy, and not to tell him to do things like push the needlessly heavy truck. Xuma doesn’t like the look of the Red One: compared to Chris’s smiling face, his face is hard and brooding. He has blue eyes and a mass of red hair, from which he receives his nickname.

The day is a strange one for Xuma. Explosions and rumblings and shouts of indunas are constant, but what frightens him most is the look in the men’s eyes, which reminds him of sheep who do not know where to run when a sheepdog is barking and herding them into a cluster. All day they load wet white sand into trucks and push them up an incline, yet it appears to Xuma that they are accomplishing nothing. When the lunch whistle blows, a man named Nana befriends Xuma and shares half of his lunch—mealy porridge, a hunk of meat, and coarse compound bread. Nana says the fear of the first day subsides once you stop looking to see results from your work. Xuma mentions how the men’s eyes are like those of sheep, and Nana says they are all sheep.

After eating, the men lie down to rest, humming softly in unison. The humming takes some of the tension from Xuma’s body and subdues the chaotic sounds of the mine. After the break, Xuma is put on truck loading duty, shoveling the wet white sand. He asks Nana about what it is like underground. Johannes comes to take Xuma to the doctor’s office, where Paddy (the Red One) and Chris are waiting. The doctor examines Xuma and the men discuss whether he is ready to go underground the next day. Xuma is eager to go underground.

After washing up, Johannes and Xuma fetch their white bosses’ bicycles for them and discuss the next day. Paddy tells Xuma that if he is to be a boss boy down in the mine, he will have to be physically aggressive with the fifty or so men he is in charge of. They will test him to see if he is soft, and he must lead them strongly, crushing them with his fist if necessary. Xuma agrees.

Chapter five begins back at Leah’s, where a group of beer-selling women are just leaving. Leah explains that if anyone gets arrested, the rest of the group comes together and collects money to bail the woman out. After eating with the others, Xuma goes out to the verandah and reflects unhappily on the strangeness of the city and the people he is with. He knows he loves Eliza and also that he cannot take her by force: he must wait for her to come to him by her own volition. A woman named Maisy comes out of Leah’s and tells Xuma that Eliza will never go for a guy like him. She convinces him to go out walking. They encounter a group of men and women dancing in the street. They join in and Xuma doesn’t want to leave, but Maisy forces him, holding his arm.

Back at Leah’s, Eliza has returned with a thin, ill-looking man, a fellow teacher named Ndola. Maisy leans on Xuma and says she is happy because they’ve been dancing. Eliza says she had a nice time out with Ndola. In his room, Xuma reflects on Eliza going out with a man who dresses like a white man and has soft hands. Xuma thinks that Maisy is good and warm, she made him happy, yet he still longs for Eliza, who is cold and doesn’t want him.

Eliza knocks on Xuma’s door and asks to come in. They smoke cigarettes together and ask each other about their dates. Xuma is curious why she has come to him, and she says she doesn’t know: she wanted to come to him and now that she has, she is not happy. She wraps her arms and around his neck and asks if he loves her. He says maybe. She says he is so strong, so big, it warms her blood. She kisses him passionately. Xuma’s heart sings—she loves him! But Eliza’s body soon stiffens and she shouts no. She throws herself on the bed and cries for a moment, then leaves the room. Xuma lies in bed and looks at the moon, unable to sleep. Eliza returns and lies beside him. Speaking softly, she explains that she has something wrong inside of her: she wants to be like the white people. Even though she is black, she is not black inside. Inside, she wants to do as white people do. She says she cannot help it, and asks if Xuma understands. He asks how he could understand. Eliza sighs and leaves again.

Chapter six opens in winter; Xuma has been in the city for three months. Two months earlier he left Leah’s and moved into a room in Malay Camp. He wants to see Leah, but he has to avoid seeing Eliza, who is like a devil in his blood. He cannot forget her.

Xuma leaves his cold room and wanders the streets of Johannesburg. His feet are cold in his thin shoes, but he is grateful for the clothes the white man has given him, particularly when Xuma passes so many people without shoes. Everywhere he sees couples kissing under street lamps. A policeman asks him for his pass and the two have a pleasant exchange: Xuma assumes he must be new to the job. Xuma sees white people eating and drinking and smoking in restaurants. He smiles bitterly at the cars that shoot past him and reflects that the only place he is free is in the mines, where he is the boss. Underground he is not afraid of Paddy, because Paddy depends on him. He reflects that he feels fine about working for Paddy, but he does not want to be friends with or be the same as white men. With pain he thinks of Eliza, whom he longs for more every day. She wants the things of the white man, and therefore Xuma resents the white man.

Paddy and Di, his girlfriend, run into Xuma. They make him come up to Paddy’s place, which is warm despite there being no evidence of a fire. Di serves Xuma wine; she is nice to look at, but he doesn’t want to look. Inside Paddy’s apartment, Xuma understands why Eliza wants what white people have, but Xuma tells himself that these things are for white people. While Paddy gets food from the kitchen, Di tells Xuma that the Red One wants to be his friend. Xuma disappoints her when he says that it can’t happen because he is white.

Xuma forgets some of his unease as they eat; he forgets sometimes that he is with white people. When Paddy is out of the room, Xuma tells Di about Eliza and her foolish desire to be white. Di says she and Eliza, though they may be white and black, are the same inside. Xuma can’t believe her, but she insists. When Xuma leaves, the narrative point of view stays in the apartment with Di and Paddy. Paddy says Xuma is grand, and asks her what she thinks. She says Xuma is grand, but just a mine boy, not fully human yet. His girl is human and wants the same things Di wants, but Xuma is not there yet. Paddy insists that Xuma is as human as he is himself, but Di says Xuma isn’t, because he accepts things others wouldn’t. Di says Paddy wants to believe Xuma is a good native who can lead other black men and even white men, but he is docile like an animal, lacking assertion and resentment. Paddy defends him.

The point of view returns to Xuma as he walks back to Malay Camp, relieved to be away from the white people. He reflects on how Di was trustworthy and easy to talk to. In Malay Camp, Xuma and others stop to watch a man climbing a slanted roof to evade police. The man falls and the crowd rushes in. Doctor Mini assesses his injuries, saying he has only broken his arm. The police catch up and tell everyone to stand aside. The doctor identifies himself but a policeman smacks him in the face. The doctor threatens to file a complaint. The other policemen tell the first to stop harassing him. The doctor insists on taking the injured man to attend to his arm. He gives the police his card and says they can pick him up in an hour.

Xuma carries the man to the doctor’s car and together they drive to the doctor’s house. Xuma reflects that the men he is with are both his people, but they are so different. There is something about the doctor that commanded respect: even the police recognized it. The doctor’s house has all the nice things Paddy’s did but even more. Xuma is impressed by the electric lights, but he feels the same discomfort he felt at Paddy’s. He tells the doctor it is a white person’s place, and the doctor laughs and tells him it isn’t, it is simply a comfortable place. He says it is not copying the white man to live in a place like this. He says the white people’s places the ones the white people make you live in. While they are inside the house, the man with the broken arm escapes the surgery room through the window. The doctor, angry, tells Xuma he can go. Xuma is confused, because he has done nothing wrong.


The fourth chapter begins with the motif of alcoholism when Xuma reflects on how Johannes is a completely different person when sober. Xuma’s naivety is on display: it is clear that the drinking culture of the city is a new and foreign concept to him. To underscore the difference between the two men—one an innocent farm boy from up north, the other a hardened and hungover man of the city—the author shifts the narrative point of view between Xuma and Johannes. Xuma is more comfortable with fewer people around, while Johannes hates the dead streets.

The themes of work and racial oppression arise again as Xuma witnesses the organizational structure of the gold mine. Police employed by the mine owners march the impoverished and racialized workers into and out of the mine entrance, imposing order with shouts and threats of physical violence, treating the men as more like forced laborers than employees.

In Xuma’s first experience of the mine’s hierarchy, a white man orders Xuma to push a truck without telling him how and where to apply pressure to balance the load. Even once Paddy gives Xuma regular work to do, Xuma is confused by how they seem to accomplish nothing as they add to the massive heap of white sand. The men around him resemble sheep. To Xuma, the work conditions the men are subject to have led them to lose their human dignity: the mine’s higher-ups keep the men frightened and beaten down, like animals.

Later that day Xuma meets Ndola, a man who is courting Eliza. In stark contrast to Xuma, Ndola is weak and thin, and dresses like a white man. As with the other strange behaviors of city people that Xuma encounters, Eliza’s and this man’s assimilationist ideals are foreign to Xuma. Eliza exacerbates Xuma’s confusion when she comes to his room that night: momentarily he believes she loves him, but she seems suddenly to change her mind and leave. When she returns, she speaks of her assimilationist ideals as though it something deeply wrong with her. But Xuma cannot understand why she would want to be white.

Xuma develops some understanding of Eliza’s aspirations when he sees the inside of Paddy’s apartment. Though Xuma still believes the luxurious and comfortable space is for white people, he understands why Eliza might want to live in such a place. At the end of the scene, the narrative point of view stays with Di and Paddy to reveal how Di—though she had convinced Xuma to trust her enough to share his opinions—had been deceiving him with her kindness. It is revealed that she thinks of Xuma as a lesser being, lacking the assertion and resentment she believes is necessary to qualify him as a true human being. Paddy defends Xuma, and the reader gets the first hint of Paddy’s belief that white people and black people are no different.

The sixth chapter ends with Xuma reassessing his ideas of what a white man’s home is when he visits the well-appointed home of Doctor Mini, who is black. The doctor tells him it isn’t a white man’s place to live, it is simply a comfortable place: the doctor says that the oppressive and impoverished places most black and colored people live is the true white man’s place, implying that racism and settler colonialism have created the conditions that Xuma has come to see as normal.