A Walk in the Night Themes
The main themes of La Guma’s A Walk in the Night include human conflict, white supremacy, and racial violence.
- Human conflict: In South Africa under the system of apartheid, the white minority suppressed the Black majority, a condition that created fear, hatred, frustration, and anger among Blacks and exacerbated conflict.
- White supremacy: La Guma shows how white supremacy handicaps society and how a history of white supremacy has bled into the collective consciousness and contributed to false assumptions about race and justice.
- Racial violence: La Guma’s book is about the physical and psychological effects of violence within a racist system.
Last Updated on November 30, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540
Throughout history, certain peoples have attempted to suppress other people, and in South Africa under the system of apartheid, the white minority suppressed the Black majority—a condition that led to feelings of fear, hatred, frustration, and anger among Black people. This fueled racial stereotypes and exacerbated the conflict. The story itself centers on the conflict between Michael and his employer, the street gangs, the police, and Uncle Doughty. These individual conflicts are symptomatic of the larger issues at play: manmade, and man-enforced, inequity. At their core, racism and the horrors of apartheid are constructed by people and governments as a means of control. The conflicts that arose would take on a life of their own, one in which everyone begins to hate everyone else and can’t exactly pinpoint one. It is pervasive.
Throughout “A Walk in the Night,” La Guma shows how white supremacy handicaps society and how a history of white supremacy has bled into the collective consciousness. All in all, it has contributed to false assumptions about race and justice. The concept of white supremacy is based on the belief that white people are higher than Black people on the evolutionary scale. White people historically have associated themselves with intelligence and refinement and Black people with brute strength. These types of stereotypes instilled a fear of Black people among white people, who used the argument of evolutionary racism to justify the oppression of Black people, who they believed to be inferior beings. These widely held beliefs paved the way for segregation and discrimination. Many readers will recognize aspects of the Jim Crow South in the goings-on in Cape Town. White supremacy is insidious and destructive and can hide in false justifications of fearful racial differences. The “normalcy” of segregation in this manner is evident in the neighborhoods of Cape Town. The Black Africans lived in worse conditions: streets were dirtier, more susceptible to crime, and overall considered less desirable. At one point, a character wonders why Uncle Doughty—a white Irishman—lives in the same place as Michael and his neighbors in the first place. It merely doesn’t add up, in their eyes, that a white man would be living where the majority of the population is Black.
La Guma’s book is largely about violence and the physical and psychological effects of violence within a racist system. Violence against Black people leads to counter-violence by Black people. This escalates the conflict and fuels the myth of white supremacy. The main violence that the story touches on is the death of Uncle Doughty. This violence is racially painted because Uncle Doughty is white and Michael is Black. The reality is, Michael would be punished severely for this crime due to his race. On top of this, the police are violent and incompetent. The officer investigating Uncle Doughty’s death comes to the conclusion that it is Willieboy who has committed the crime. When he is shot, he is taken quite leisurely in the policeman’s car despite the fact that he is near death in the backseat. The unethical policing, as well as the gross mistreatment of Willieboy, is an unfortunate marker of just how prolific racial violence is.