Themes and Meanings
Like the majority of La Guma’s short stories and novels, “Blankets” deals with the decay and despair of slum life and the squalor, isolation, disconnectedness, and loneliness of repressed people under South African apartheid. It is about hope and hopelessness, poverty, violence, entrapment, love, and hate. Like the other stories in A Walk in the Night (1964), “Blankets” is about “actual characters” and “actual events” observed and recorded with the precision of an eyewitness. It is also a symbolic tale that focuses on the various blankets under which Choker has been forced to sleep, all the blankets of his harried, slum-dwelling life from which there appears to be no escape.
It is ironic that Choker’s discomfort and anger does not stem from the stifling feeling of his lover’s hot and humid room but from his lover’s “unwashed, worn blanket,” a symbol of all the squalidness of his life and his feeling of being trapped. Thus, the threadbare, vermin-infested blankets of childhood and manhood represent the several levels of despair that trap him in his own misery and in his inability to react and change things. The blanket, which should function as the protective cover it is meant to be, becomes instead a smothering, stifling coverlet that gives Choker neither comfort and protection from the cold during his childhood nor the much-needed succor he seeks in his adulthood. Instead, the blanket becomes the ever-present symbol of his exposure to the inimical forces of nature and his community. Although Choker can thrust the momentary confinement of the smelly bedding from himself, he merely has to turn around moments later to encounter it in different circumstances in what appears to be unaltered, or in some cases, worse forms. Thus, the many different blankets represent the tension between the basic human rights he is denied by the apartheid system and the social responsibility of the community to meet and defeat the evil forces of the repressive racism that is responsible for the despair in the first place.