A Walk in the Night by Alex La Guma

Start Your Free Trial

Download A Walk in the Night Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

The story “A Walk in the Night” by Alex La Guma is based on the happenings in and around a squalid part of Cape Town, in South Africa, called District Six. The story begins with a stressed Michael Adonis, the central character of the story, loitering about the streets of the district. He has lost his job at the metal sheet factory because of an altercation he had with his white supervisor. Michael is a young man who is struggling to keep on the good side of the law in an area notorious for its lawlessness. On this particular day, he is at his wits’ end about what to do with himself after the job loss. This helplessness puts him in a bad mood and heightens the gnawing anger that he feels towards all white people. It is in this state of mind that he walks into a restaurant for a meal of steak and chips. At the restaurant, he meets Willieboy, an acquaintance from the slums, with whom he discusses his job loss. Later on, another acquaintance, Foxy—accompanied by two unsavory characters, simply referred to as the “scar-faced boy” and the “boy with the skull-and-crossbones ring”—appear at the restaurant. The three are neighborhood thugs. They are looking for a friend of theirs who is called Sockies.

After leaving the restaurant, Michael meets Joe, a homeless man. Michael is quite popular in his district, perhaps because he is kind to his neighbors. He chats with the dirty, smelly Joe and even offers him some money to use for food. Afterward, he meets two policemen who bully him, thinking that he is a thief prowling the streets. Later, he stops at a pub, where he sees Foxy and his two unpleasant friends. They are still looking for Sockies. Later in the night, Michael leaves the pub almost drunk. He heads for his apartment block and stops to talk to Hazel, a girl from the ghetto, at the entrance of the block. He then proceeds to his room but is stopped by the old Irishman, Uncle Doughty, who asks him to help him to his room. They have a drink in the old man's room but are unable to have a healthy conversation. Michael, especially, is surly and seems to be spoiling for a fight. In the end, he hits the old man and instantly kills him. He then runs to hide in his room. Later on, he runs away from the building after his neighbors discover the dead Irishman.

Willieboy passes by Michael’s apartment with the aim of asking him for some money. At the door of the building, he meets John Abrahams, who borrows some matches from him. It seems that Michael is not at home, as nobody answers his calls. He decides to pass by Uncle Doughty’s, only to find the man dead in his room. He takes off in shock and is seen by Grace, Franky Lorenzo’s wife, who misunderstands the whole situation after she too sees the Irishman's corpse. She thinks that Willieboy has murdered Uncle Doughty. She screams and her cries are heard by John Abrahams, who is still standing at the entrance of the building. When Willieboy comes running past John, he concludes that the man has been up to no good in the apartment block.

Police Constable Raalt is the patrol officer in charge of the streets in Michael’s neighborhood on the night that Uncle Doughty is murdered. He is a selfish and racist police officer. Even his driver worries that he is not suited for the job of maintaining law and order in an area such as District Six. The murder in Michael's apartment block comes to the attention of Raalt and his colleague, who then investigate what may have happened. Upon hearing the evidence of John Abrahams, Raalt concludes that Willieboy is Uncle Doughty’s murderer. Later on, while patrolling the streets, Raalt sees somebody who answers to the description he has been given of Willieboy. Raalt chases after Willieboy, finally shooting him. His driver convinces him to rush the wounded man to the station, but Willieboy dies on the way, partly because Raalt stops along the way to attend to inconsequential things even though he knows full well that he is carrying a dying...

(The entire section is 2,030 words.)