From Long Walk to Freedom, examine the aspects of Mandela's character revealed in the extract entitled "The Dark Years."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One aspect of Mandela's character that is revealed in the extract entitled "The Dark Years" is how difficult imprisonment in Robben Island actually was.  A level of perseverance is evident in how Mandela lived in a cell "with no running water in our cells and instead of toilets had iron sanitary buckets known as "ballies."  This level of toughness is only enhanced when the prisoners were made to clean out the sanitary buckets "in the sinks at the end of the hallway or they created a stench."  While those "dark years" are frequently referred to as part of Mandela's time in jail, little is actually known about them.  Upon reading about this time in Mandela's life a sense of resilience and resolve is demonstrated as part of Mandela's character.

Another aspect of Mandela's character that is revealed through the extract is his perception of how racism is evident in prison system.  While Mandela experienced degrading and brutal treatment, one sees that his perception about the nature of reality has not left him:

In general, Coloureds and Indians received a slightly better diet than Africans, but it was not much of a distinction. The authorities liked to say that we received a balanced diet; it was indeed balanced--between the unpalatable and the inedible. Food was the source of many of our protests, but in those early days, the warders would say, "Ag, you kaffirs are eating better in prison than you ever ate at home!"

It becomes clear that Mandela does not surrender his perceptive view of reality as a result of his time in prison.  If anything, it is heightened as a result of his incarceration.

Throughout the extract, Mandela speaks of wanting to communicate with his fellow prisoners.  Mandela's character is shown to be one that yearns for community and solidarity.  Prison is not shown to weaken his resolve for unity amongst those whose voices are silenced.  Mandela speaks about how there is limited opportunities for prisoners to talk to one another.  They find these moments in bathing in icy cold water, cleaning out their "ballies" and even in the form of sprinkling sand on the ground so as to detect when the night warden is walking, so they can be silent at these moments and continue to converse when he passes.  These events show how the notion of unity and solidarity are critical elements in Mandela's personality even in the period of his life known as "the dark years."

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