You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town by Zoë Wicomb

Start Your Free Trial

Download You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town Study Guide

Subscribe Now

You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town Summary

The novel You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town follows a black character named Frieda who was born in South Africa. The book reads a bit like a novel, but it’s actually a series of short stories in terms of format.

The short stories start out with Frieda being a teenager in South Africa, where she is raised by her parents to copy the mannerisms of white people. In particular, they revere Englishmen. There’s a passage where Frieda’s mother calls an Englishmen “a gentleman,” for example.

Some of the things Frieda is encouraged to do in the stories include losing some of her native Afrikaans accent in order to speak "proper" English and changing her hair so that it is straighter and more like the hair of white people.

The overall story follows Frieda’s journey as she learns that “getting lost” in the country is impossible, because the segregation of Apartheid enforces where she can and can’t go and what she can and can’t do.

Eventually, Frieda escapes to England. Ten years later, Frieda goes back to visit South Africa during the resistance against Apartheid, but she still feels out of place there. This book is semi-autobiographical to the author, Zoe Wicomb. The publishing of the book itself is how both Frieda and Zoe are able to feel like she belongs in the world.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town” is an intense personal interior monologue of a young Coloured woman who aborts her unborn child, the offspring of a two-year relationship with her white boyfriend.

The story begins with the nameless narrator sitting on the bus into Cape Town, South Africa, clutching her purse and worrying about how much the fare is, if she will need change, what the lining of her handbag is made of, and where she should get off the bus. The entrance of two women who cook and clean for white women, on their way home from their jobs, offers her a welcome distraction. The narrator feels a flutter in her womb and thinks that God will never forgive her. She chooses to anchor her mind in the women’s conversation, mostly a monologue by the larger and more aggressive of the two who refers to herself as Tiena. The woman is discussing her white mistress, the stupidity and laxness of the white people, and how she manages to outwit them. She shares some chicken she has taken from the house with her friend, while she explains how her exploitative mistress tried to keep her from having any of it for herself. She also discusses the mistress’s daughter, who has been having sex with her fiancé but has been using birth control pills, which she assumes the servant is too ignorant to recognize. This girl will be married in white and seen as a blushing innocent by her family, though Tiena sees through her.

As she listens, the narrator becomes anxious again. She thinks of asking for directions, but when the fetus inside her flutters again she feels...

(The entire section is 777 words.)