Last Updated on March 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 799
Living in Eden Park, a colored area, Trevor experiences a new aspect of racial division. Though this is the first time he and Patricia live somewhere where the neighbors have both Black and white ancestry—and therefore physically resemble him—he feels a constant animosity. To be mixed is considered categorically different than to be colored, so he is still seen as an outsider by those around him.
Trevor’s experience, he notes, is not unique among South Africans. Though the two move to Eden Park after the fall of apartheid, its lasting legacy proves hard to dismantle. Under apartheid, the segregationist government leveraged the ambiguity of the colored racial designation to sow distrust and anger among everybody but whites. By affording the colored group a certain degree of privilege above Black South Africans but not full legal freedom, they created a dynamic of tension and anger that oppressed both groups. Black people carried animosity towards colored people for their clear advantages, and colored people harbored fear that Black people might jeopardize those advantages if they got too close. Despite the new freedoms now available after the dismantling of the apartheid system, Trevor’s experience as a mixed-race South African continues to be heavily influenced by these racial dynamics.
On one especially memorable occasion, Trevor is chased by an angry mob of older boys as he tries to pick mulberries from a neighborhood tree. They pelt him with mulberries until he runs home, crying and covered in red berry juice. Abel—who by then is living with Trevor and Patricia—asks what happened. Trevor tells him the story, failing to understand why Patricia seems to be downplaying the actions of the older boys. When he finishes, Abel demands that Trevor takes him to see the boys who tormented him.
When they arrive, Abel violently attacks the supposed ringleader of the gang of boys. At first, Trevor thinks the beating looks proportionate to their transgression, but soon, his perspective shifts. What seemed like a fair punishment has clearly transcended into something else—a grown man, full of rage, savagely beating a child.
Trevor is now twelve, and the school’s Valentine’s Day dance is fast approaching. He has just transferred to a new school, so this tradition is new to him; he has never celebrated the holiday before, and he has also never had a crush on anyone. Now, he realizes, he is supposed to ask someone to go with him.
At the urging of the other students, he asks a girl named Maylene. He likes her well enough, but the real reason their peers think they’re a match is that Maylene is the only colored girl in the school. Trevor is the only mixed boy, so the community has unanimously agreed that the two of them should date.
She agrees. In what seems like an instant, Trevor has his first crush. He becomes fixated on creating the perfect Valentine’s Day experience for her, saving up to buy flowers and a teddy bear to give her at school. When he arrives with the gifts, he is met with his first romantic rejection—another boy has asked Maylene to the dance, and she decides to go with him instead.
In chapter 9, Trevor sees Abel’s full capacity for violence for the first time. The experience is deeply formative in that it brings both a new fear of his stepfather and a new recognition of his own empathy. He watches an enemy get punished for a transgression against him, and he experiences a palpable shift in perspective during the spectacle. At a certain point, the punishment is no longer a proportionate reaction but rather a violent attack. When his perspective on the punishment changes, so does his perspective about the boy himself; he stops seeing an enemy and starts seeing a victim.
Chapters 9 and 10 also both represent a new set of identity struggles for Trevor. For the first time, he is living in a colored area, and the people living nearby finally look like him. But contrary to Patricia’s expectations, Trevor finds this situation extremely tense and emotionally isolating. It’s much more alienating, he learns, to feel rejected by the people who look like you than it is to be included by people who don’t.
When his peers pressure him to ask Maylene to the Valentine’s Day dance, his skin tone feels uncomfortably limiting. This is his first experience with romance, and the rest of the world is already telling him which girl he should like based on their physical resemblance to each other. If the social convention dictates that Maylene is his only choice because she is the only colored girl in school, it isn’t really a choice at all.