Mine Boy

Mine Boy Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Drinking and Alcoholism (Motif)

Many of the characters Xuma encounters in Malay Camp drink alcohol to excess. For Johannes, drinking changes his personality, turning him violent and boastful when drunk, and rendering him fragile and subdued when sober. Daddy is also an alcoholic, and Xuma only knows him to be intoxicated or asleep. Xuma himself rarely drinks, but when he drinks with Maisy and her friends in the countryside, he remarks that the quality of the beer is different: it brings joy rather than sadness, as alcohol does in the city.

Police Corruption (Motif)

While the police are a constant presence in Mine Boy, it is clear that, for the black and colored residents of Johannesburg, the police are a force to be feared and bargained with rather than depended upon for safety. Xuma is at first confused by the idea that he should run when he has done nothing wrong, and his naivety leads him to receive a blow to the shoulder. Leah, as an illegal beer seller, keeps a police officer on her side with bribery. At the end of the novel, the police move in to attack the mine workers when they strike, proving their allegiance to the powerful white owners of the mine.

Mine Dumps (Symbol)

In order to extract minute amounts of gold, the mine workers must move out truckloads of sand, which stand in great piles that Xuma sees on his first night out with Eliza. His first day at the mine involves creating the piles, toiling all day only to find that the piles appear to remain stagnant, not growing despite the constant backbreaking work of building them. Xuma's coworker tells him that eventually he will simply stop thinking about it. The mine dumps become symbolic of the futility that underprivileged men must make peace with, a process that renders them sheeplike and docile.

The Countryside (Symbol)

For Xuma, the countryside represents the inverse of all the sadness and desperation he encounters in the city. When Maisy takes him to the countryside, Xuma feels as if he can engage in activities that are familiar to the life he knows on the farm up north. Among the grass and open space of the countryside, he is free to be himself, free from the threat of police, the ravages of alcoholism, and the unsanitary, bleak conditions in which people in Malay Camp live.

Electric Light Switches (Symbol)

At Doctor Mini's house and Maisy's maid's room, Xuma encounters an electric light switch and doesn't know what to make of it; he is surprised to see a white man's invention in a black person's home. Xuma's unfamiliarity with the modern convenience of indoor electric lights is symbolic of the racialized thinking he has absorbed. Xuma associates lighting not with wealth but with white men, as white people are more economically privileged in the society in which he lives.