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In Kaffir Boy, the author Mark Mathabane describes his experiences coming of age in apartheid South Africa. The tone of the book ranges from fearful and angry to hopeful and determined.
Through much of the story, Mathabane merely describes the events from his perspective. In these sections, the tone is often fearful or confused. In one section when Mathabane is a young child, his father is arrested for failing to carry a proper pass, a kind of ID book that white South Africans used to use to keep track of the whereabouts of black South Africans. Mathabane asks his mother:
"How come we won't be celebrating Christmas this year, Mama?"
"Your father isn't here," my mother said.
"But Christmas is here," I said.
"Yes, I know," my mother said sadly. "But we don't have the money to celebrate it with."
In this segment, Mathabane matter-of-factly portrays a scene of sadness and confusion, using details important to a child to show how the absence of his father affected his family.
In other sections, Mathabane is much more didactic. Instead of merely relating the events of his life, he comments on them, making direct points about his beliefs. For instance, he describes how he stood apart and refused to debase himself as others sometimes did, even if it meant missing the opportunity to earn money for food:
Throughout all the years that I lived in South Africa, people were to call me a fool for refusing to live life the way they did and by doing the things they did. Little did they realize that in our world, the black world, one could only survive if one played the fool, and bided his time.
Such passages help to reinforce Mathabane's themes of the importance of trusting and respecting oneself.
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