This challenging yet inspiring story of one black man's youth and development in a society where everything is set against him features conflict throughout. Predominantly, the main sources of conflict are external, as Mark has to battle against the ruthless and unyielding poverty that his family face whilst also at the same time trying to battle with the customs and beliefs of his father. Note how the desperate poverty that Mark and his family face is referred to in the book:
Pangs of hunger melted my resentment of my father away, and now that he was gone I longed night and day for his return. I didn't even mind his coming back and shouting restrictions at me and making me perform rituals. I simply wanted him back. And as days slid by without him, as I saw other children in the company of their fathers, I would cry. His absence showed me how much I loved him. I never stopped asking questions about when he would be coming back.
Even though Mark's father is abusive and drunken when he is at home, his presence does mean that he is able to work and satisfy the most basic needs of his family. Without him, whilst he is in jail, Mark and his siblings have nothing to do except starve. Thus the biggest conflict that is present in this novel is the simple struggle for existence. Note however that this quote also references the conflict that Mark has with his father that concerns his father's tribal beliefs that he tries to force his son to carry out. His father is suspicious of anything to do with white South Africa, whether that is religion or education, and this conflict increases as the text progresses and Mark becomes more and more focused on education as a means of escaping his desperate poverty.