A Walk in the Night

by Alex La Guma

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Last Updated on December 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

“A Walk in the Night'' by Alex La Guma explores ideas of racism and hatred, oppression, segregation, labor exploitation, and white supremacy. All of these conditions characterized life under the apartheid system, and La Guma shows their devastating effect on the people and community of District Six, an impoverished colored area of Cape Town, South Africa. La Guma shows apartheid to be self-destructive and self-debasing, as it deteriorates the quality of life for the white minority as well as for the Black majority in the town. The white police force in District Six rules the community, and La Guma paints a grim picture of life in a police state. This is exemplified through the character of Constable Raalt. While on duty, he performs his job poorly—so much so that his driver suggests they get on with their tasks rather than sit around. He has been thinking about his marital troubles and considers killing his wife, but ultimately decides killing is a sin. Ironically, he is quick to assume the facts about Willieboy’s involvement in Uncle Doughty’s death and shoots him in the street. Clearly, in his eyes and the eyes of the police, killing Black Africans is not considered a “sin.” The police state La Guma depicts is oppressive, destructive, and malicious. 

Michael Adonis, the main character of the short story, eventually gives up his “good” life to join a gang. Throughout the story, Michael is treated as if he is guilty merely for existing: his predominantly Black neighborhood and its reputation have painted him as a criminal by default. This is false until the fateful night when he accidentally kills Uncle Doughty. Uncle Doughty’s death is symbolic, too. Michael was provoked, drunk, and projecting his frustration with the boss that fired him onto Uncle Doughty. The environment that Michael exists in—living in the violence and tension of apartheid—thrives off the white minority's expectation that Black Africans will commit crimes. People like Michael are stuck between a rock and a hard place: either they are believed to be criminals but are not in reality, or they become exhausted by such assumptions and give in to a life of crime. When Michael accidentally kills Uncle Doughty, he has fulfilled the unfair, racist expectations of the police (though they arrest and kill Willieboy instead). At the end of the story, when Michael joins Foxy’s gang, it is out of desperation.

La Guma was an anti-apartheid activist, and he wrote “A Walk in the Night” when he was under house arrest. His fierce opposition to apartheid drives the story’s plot. When Michael Adonis murders the Irishman and is fired from his job, La Guma highlights Marxist ideas about the exploitation of workers. He also links the practice of worker exploitation with the pervasiveness of hate. Equally important as the emphasis on exploitation and hate, however, is the theme of African pride. Throughout the story, La Guma conveys his praise for the working-class Black community and his respect for the African people. The thread of rootlessness runs through the story as well, as in the face of oppression, Michael Adonis feels ripped from his roots. This disconnection from his African roots, in large part, motivates him to commit crimes and murder.

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