essay of the novel tsotsi

Athol Fugard

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Tsotsi: Introduction

Tsotsi: plot summary, tsotsi: detailed summary & analysis, tsotsi: themes, tsotsi: quotes, tsotsi: characters, tsotsi: terms, tsotsi: symbols, tsotsi: theme wheel, brief biography of athol fugard.

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Historical Context of Tsotsi

Other books related to tsotsi.

  • Full Title: Tsotsi
  • When Written: 1960–1962
  • Where Written: England, South Africa
  • When Published: 1980
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Novel, Realism
  • Setting: South Africa
  • Climax: Tsotsi dies trying to save the baby he has adopted.
  • Antagonist: Apartheid
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for Tsotsi

Winning Adaptation: In 2005, South African director Gavin Hood adapted Tsotsi into a movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Religious Outtake: Athol Fugard’s original notes for Tsotsi include plans for a dramatic scene in which Tsotsi enters a church, threatens a priest, and defiles a cross. This scene did not make it into the published version of the novel.

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Tsotsi, Athol Fugard Analysis


So these are the ideas which I have been discussing with my class.

Tsotsi is set in 1956, give or take, in Sophiatown, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. It was written by Fugard in the early months of 1960 after Sophiatown had been destroyed by the white community in Johannesburg and, therefore, there is an inevitability to its destruction. This inevitability is expressed in the gangs of slum clearance workers and in the language where, for example, the remnants of broken houses are described as being like”skulls”.

Our main character is Tsotsi, the eponymous (anti) hero. He is “the one they called Tsotsi” which makes it clear that it is a title or label rather than a name; and a label that means simply “thug” when translated. It is not a name given to him with love by his mother, it does not connect him to his father’s family, tribe or ancestors – a fact which may have more import to an African audience than a western one. Clearly, there is distance and a disconnection between Tsotsi and his family simply from the fact of his name. This in itself starts to suggest a Freudian interpretation.

The character is also seen to be damaged. He has no recollection of his past and “didn’t know the answers” to any questions regarding his past. He seems, therefore, to be adrift in a constant moment with no history or family to ground him or put his actions into perspective.

Even more profound, he is a man without a sense of identity. Fugard tells us that, when Tsotsi looks into a mirror, he had “not been able to put together the eyes and the nose, and the mouth and the chin and make a man with meaning”. Fugard says that Tsotsi’s own features were “as meaningless as a handful of stones”.

Rather than creating a sense of identity from his own history, Tsotsi seems to create identity in others’ reaction to him. We are shown “the big men, the brave ones stood down because of him, the fear was of him, the hate was for him” and “He knew he was “. In the language of Transactional Analysis, what we see is perhaps a character craving strokes to prove his actual existence – because of the disconnection with his family – but only able to generate extreme negative strokes through violence, murder and rape.

The reader, along with the character Boston, are encouraged to see Tsotsi as lacking empathy or, in Boston’s words “decency”. He is accused of not feeling for anyone and when he attempts to rape the woman who thrusts the baby into his hands, he see her only as mouth, legs, eyes, her “neck with the pulse of an artery”, breasts and chest. A collection of body parts, a collage and therefore capable of being violated without guilt.

So, summing up, we are firstly given a character with extreme anti-social and perhaps sociopathic tendencies; a desperate and possibly manic need for attention, recognition and ‘strokes’; suffering from a dislocation from family.

At the heart of the book, there is a section where Tsotsi remembers his past. An apparently loving mother is ripped from her bed by police in a Pass raid – abusing the system of Passes which limit and control the blacks’ rights to be in any certain area. His father’s long awaited return becomes a tragedy as he discovers the empty house and wails his horror and disappointment and in his rage kicks the pregnant dog. In perhaps the central image of the book the bitch with its broken back then crawls outside to where Tsotsi (who has now recalled his name, David Madoni) has hidden and miscarries, “giving birth to death” as Fugard describes the image in his notes.

I wonder about the extent to which the memory is reliable or wish fulfilment. The mother is very warmly described: “warm” and “safe” are the words which characterise her. And it must be more comforting for someone motherless to imagine her taken from him than having abandoned him.

Anyway, the memory appears to be traumatic.

A Freudian analysis – based on the division of the mind into the conscious and the unconscious – could explain, or more properly provide a vocabulary with which to explain this. The traumatic event was too difficult for David’s young mind to deal with. The event is too visceral , too painful, effectively orphaning him. Incapable of integrating it into his conscious, the memory is repressed into his unconscious.

It is interesting – to me at least – to note that Tsotsi appears to repress the memory through conscious effort. He is shown deliberately fighting his memory, daily honing his knife as a fetish to keep the memory and his trauma at bay.

Because the repressed trauma is not integrated into the conscious, just as an untreated physical injury will fester and become infected, the repressed psychological injury could be seen as giving rise to the sociopathic lack of empathy with which he starts the novel.

Once the trauma is recalled, Tsotsi changes his behaviour: he disbands his gang; he sees Die Aap as a person rather than as a useful tool because of his immense strength; he attempts to reconcile with Boston who he had previously assaulted and kicked so hard he had nearly killed him; he visits a church; he finally sacrifices himself to attempt to save the baby (which had triggered the memories) from the slum clearance crews. It is left ambiguous at the end as to whether his gesture was futile or not: Tsotsi is killed when the wall falls upon him, dying with a very enigmatic “smile”, but the baby itself is not even mentioned. It, too may have died; or may have been rescued earlier by another character, possibly Miriam who Tsotsi forces to feed the baby.

I am personally always a tad hesitant about applying Freudian language to fictional characters but the arc of this book seems to be so apt for it.

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10 thoughts on “Tsotsi, Athol Fugard Analysis”

I know Fugard only as a playwright, so I can’t comment on this story, however, it seems to me reading this that the question of identity and the mismatch between the way in which an individual’s identity is perceived by different characters is frequently of importance in his plays as well. It must be a common subject in South African writing I would have thought.

It’s his only novel I think and the language in the book is beautiful and lyrical and full of rhythm. There are also places which just scream out that he’s a playwright: whole swathes of meaning conveyed by a look, a tightening of the eyes, silence… I think it’s a remarkable book!

[…] then I read and blogged about Tsotsi by Athol Fugard here and here. In my opinion, a sublime and wonderful novel: lyrical and redemptive and […]

Shades of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ in this, too.

I’d not considered that but, yeah, I can see that…. Interesting….

[…] mudar sua postura e a história se desenrola num final ambíguo e enigmático (mais informações aqui, em inglês e com […]

[…] on his novel written in the 1950s,  won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Tsotsi is set in a township outside Johannesburg which was destroyed by the white […]

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May I please share your notes with my teacher?

I will tell her about this website though!

Of course you can…

Reblogged this on The Book Lovers' Sanctuary .

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Article Contents

  • Theoretical underpinnings
  • Negotiating the ‘strain’ of apartheid and survival in Tsotsi
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Rodwell Makombe, GANG VIOLENCE AND POSTCOLONIAL SURVIVAL IN ATHOL FUGARD'S TSOTSI , English: Journal of the English Association , Volume 63, Issue 240, Spring 2014, Pages 5–27,

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The objective of every oppressive system is to have an absolute monopoly on all structures of power, to make sure it has ‘total’ control. This is evident in apartheid South Africa where laws were enacted that sought to exclude other racial groups from the social, political, and economic spheres. Although the architects of the system intended to silence and marginalize the majority groups, the system also, inadvertently, created spaces that led to the emergence of subcultures of resistance. Many subcultures emerged to counter the dominant culture; this article focuses on subcultures of violence in the form of gangs. Using insights from criminological and postcolonial theory, particularly Robert Merton, Bill Ashcroft, Frantz Fanon, and Homi Bhabha, the article argues that marginalized groups in apartheid South Africa often found ways of actively negotiating and transforming structures and discourses of oppression. In this article, I focus on Athol Fugard's only novel, Tsotsi , to argue that the emergence of gangs in apartheid South Africa was an attempt by the marginalized to subvert and transform the dominant social, economic, and political culture of the time.

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Tsotsi Grade 11 Essay Questions and Answers (Memo)

Tsotsi Grade 11 Essay Questions and Answers (Memo)

Table of Contents

List of Common Tsotsi Grade 11 Essay Questions and Answers

Question 1: identify the positive and negative occurrences that shape tsotsi’s life.

In the novel, Tsotsi by Athol Fugard, the main character can be seen as a dangerous criminal who manages to change for the better. The novel illustrates the idea that people are affected by the society in which they live whether it be positive or negative. The brutality of apartheid and Tsotsi’s desperate need for survival shaped his life. However, positive occurrences such as the baby and Boston gives the reader hope that, even in the darkest times, there are forces and people at work who can make changes better for them.

The brutality of apartheid filled Tsotsi with fear from a young age. The system not only left him being brought up by a single mother but later left him without a mother. This fear has a rippling effect resulting in Tsotsi running away, forcing himself to forget his past and live a life of crime. David Madondo is brought up by a single mother because his father is in prison. For a black man in apartheid in South Africa, being in prison did not necessarily imply that he had committed a crime. The fear of the police as well as the fear of his enraged father forms the foundation of Tsotsi’s life as a hardened criminal. Police arrest David’s mother during a midnight raid for people living without passes. David, scared of his father he never knew, and frightened when he sees his father’s violent abuse as he kicks the pregnant dog to death, runs away. These manifests itself the resulting in Tsotsi “giving into the darkness”. The apartheid regime not only left fear in the heart of a young boy but took away the one thing that once formed a positive and safe foundation in his life-his mother.

The only way David can deal with his trauma is to forget his past. He has to pretend that he has never known anything else so that he can survive and turns to a life of crime. A series of events leads Tsotsi out of the darkness of the life he has chosen for himself to a concept of love, light, god and forgiveness. Tsotsi commits to the darkest of crimes when he beats his associate, Boston, nearly to death. In the chaotic aftermath of the deed he runs away and tries to forget Boston’s warning that he may one day, feel. Running away from Boston catalyses the chain of events that will change Tsotsi further. Proof of his effect on Tsotsi is the fact Tsotsi consults Boston for advice once he realises, he wants to change. Tsotsi seeks redemption when he assists Boston with his wounds by taking him back to his shack and taking care of him and the changes in Tsotsi are revealed by the advice that he seeks from Boston.

On the fateful night that Tsotsi beats Boston up, he attempts to attack a young woman, but she hands him a box containing a baby instead. We see major change in Tsotsi’s thuggish exterior through this incident because Tsotsi chooses to take care of the child as best as he can. His careful care for the baby shows that he has the capacity for humanity. The decision changes him and he starts feeling for his next victim. He decides not to kill Morris Tshabalala because Morris expresses the desire to live. Tsotsi’s interaction with Miriam Ngidi introduces the idea that relationships and human interactions can be good. And Tsotsi remembers his past. He is made whole again.

The novel illustrates the idea that people are affected by society in which they live. It also gives the reader hope that even in the darkest times, there are forces and people at work who can make changes for the better.

It does not matter that Tsotsi dies at the end; he has found his goodness, and that is all that matters. He dies at peace with himself.

Question 2: Discuss the theme of redemption as seen in the novel, Tsotsi

The novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard, is a story of redemption and reconciliation, facing the past, and confronting the core elements of human nature. The character going through this journey, who the novel is named after, is a young man who is part of the lowest level of society, living in a shanty town in South Africa. Tsotsi is a thug, someone who kills for money and suffers no remorse. But he starts changing when circumstance finds him in possession of a baby, which acts as a catalyst in his life.

After beating up Boston he eventually takes Boston in and through caring for him, Tsotsi asks him a question pertaining to life in general. This nurturing and discussion allows Tsotsi to redeem himself not only to Boston but himself. Boston now knows Tsotsi is trying to fix himself and become a better person, therefore gaining respect for him. Next since Boston told Tsotsi he is looking for god, Tsotsi goes to the church and finds Isaiah, through their interaction Tsotsi learns more of god and what he and Christianity can do for you. Tsotsi agreed to return to the church later for a session. This shows us Tsotsi moving away from his state of sin and again moving closer to becoming David.

Once the baby came into Tsotsi’s life everything begins to change for Tsotsi. He starts learning to care or another human being and takes responsibility and not to pass the responsibility onto Miriam. Tsotsi cares for the baby- getting it milk and keeping it among the ruins so it can be safe. Tsotsi is unaware of the change taking place in him at his stage, but him hiding the baby shows the awareness that it goes against his sense of identity and doesn’t want anybody to know about it. His careful care for the baby shows that he has the capacity for humanity.

The final act of attains redemption is when Tsotsi attempts to save the bay at the end of the book. At the beginning of the novel Tsotsi was a life taker and by the end he moves to a life saver showing us his full circle of redemption. The author wants us to learn that although you may commit acts that are uncivil or incorrect you can always redeem yourself if you choose to do so. Tsotsi’s death while saving the baby shows his selflessness and is thus redeemable.

Tsotsi beings as a thug, showing no remorse. By the changes and his last deed is committing a great act of love, sacrificing himself for a baby. He regains memories of his childhood and discovers why he is the way he is. The novel sets the perimeters of being “human” as feeling empathy, having a mother, having morals, having an identity, having a spirituality and feeling love. Tsotsi learns these and is redeemed. It is a very moving story about the beauty of human nature and hope for redemption no matter what.

Question 3: Discuss the different gang members in the novel, including Tsotsi

In the novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard, all the gang members are victims of apartheid and turned to crime as mean of survival. Throughout the novel we see an evolution of Tsotsi’s’ character he starts off as a thug, killing for money and showing no remorse. But he starts changing when circumstance finds him in possession of a baby, which acts as a catalyst in his life.

Butcher is viewed as the most important member of the gang when it comes to killing and robbing people, he is very precise. Die Aap is an obedient follower, he is quiet and rather slow of mind, resulting in him not having very much to say and just does what he is told. Boston is the most civilized of the gang. He isalso the only gang member who is opposed to violence and his main problem is his curiosity he tends to ask too many questions which led to his demise with Tsotsi.

As a boy Tsotsi was innocent and content, living as a victim of apartheid. When his mother was taken from home, he was left to witness his father come home and upon realizing the house was empty, he lashed out on the dog, paralyzing its back legs and killing the litter. This scarred Tsotsi and pushed him to flee home and eventually get taken into Petah’s gang. This gang changed his identity; he became Tsotsi after several days with the gang participating in crime. Tsotsi becomes the leader of a gang who commit crimes in order to survive. Tsotsi has no morality, no memory and no history. He does not spend time trying to remember his past, he lives in the present moment. Our first impression of Tsotsi is that he is a violent man who is well respected within his gang. He beats Bostonbecause he attempts tobreak one of his rules- don’t ask questions- which is the only way he knows how to handle threats. After fleeing, Tsotsi is given a baby by a woman he intended to rape. This baby is the catalyst for his journey of self-discovery.

Tsotsi stalks his next victim, Morris who he plans to kill and rob, however; as Tsotsi stalks him he is given time to reflect and beings to build sympathy for Morris because the baby has changes his life values, and has learned to care and feel compassion. Morris also reminds him of the dog who was powerless in a similar situation. The sympathy he attains is translated to when he and Morris interact, and he decides to let him live. Not only has Tsotsi’s outlook changed but Morris now values his own life as well which he explains to Tsotsi. Their exchange leaves Tsotsi with the belief that he must value the little things in life in order to become redeemed. These events collectively influence Tsotsi to become David again,a human with a soul. No long is a murderous Tsotsi but a compassionate and loving young man. These new values are what drive him to attempt to save the baby at the end. His instinct of killing has evidently shifted to an instinct of saving lives without hesitation. When their bodies are discovered he has a smile on his face showing that he has no regrets and is pleased with who he has become. This is the ultimate sacrifice in life and the final step for Tsotsi to attain full redemption from past sins, becoming David- a new, admirable man.

Butcher, like all black males living in south Africa at the time, is a victim of apartheid. He was known as the killer; he never misses a strike and is the go-to man when the job needs to get done. Violence is the way he learned to survive because it is the only way he can. To Tsotsi Butcher isn’t much but a accurate, skilful and ruthless killer. This is evident whenBucher uses a bicycle poker to kill Gumboot Dhlamini. He skilfully pushed the spoke into his heart killing him. Bucher does not undergo any changes in the novel. When Tsotsi disappears Butcher joins another gang, continuing on with a life of crime.

Die Aap, like all the other characters were introduced to as a symbol of apartheid in South Africa. Die Aap is a very local character, he wants the gangto stay together when Tsotsi speaks of them to split, they are his brotherhood and he would sacrifice for them. Die Aap is very strong and has long arms, reflected in his name. The gang benefits from his strength. Die

Aap doesn’t play a huge role in the novel. For Die Aap, the gang was his sense of security. When Tsotsi tells him that the gang is over he is confused and lost.

Boston is the “brains’ of the group. He went to university but didn’t complete it because he was accused of raping a fellow student. This sent him down a path of resorting to crime for survival as he had no other way of making ends meet. Tsotsi’s gang benefits from Boston’s intelligence as he can evaluate their plan of action and whether or not it will work. He is a very knowledgeable character and always tells stories to the group when they aren’t out stalking prey. He is constantly asking Tsotsi questions- which go against Tsotsi’s two rules- and these questions began to make Tsotsi hate Boston.

In the outset of the novel Tsotsi beats Boston because of these questions and he accuses Tsotsi of having no decency. This influences Tsotsi’s decisions throughout the book. At the end of the novel Tsotsi seeks Boston out and cares for him in order to try and discover answers to similar questions Boston was asking earlier. Boston acts as a catalyst for Tsotsi’s search for god. He explains to Tsotsi that he must seek out god to get more answers and tells Tsotsi that everyone is“sick from life”.

Not only does he help Tsotsi understand what he must do to seek further redemption but the exchange they have also makes Boston realize he must go back home toseek redemption from his mother.

Tsotsi becomes a worthy man and finds redemption. Butcher eventually joins another gang and goes on with a life of crime. Die Aap loses his brotherhood and is confused and lost. Butcher has a realization and seeks redemption from his mother.

Essay Question 4: Tsotsi is influenced to undergo a process of personal development by his encounters with certain characters. Discuss the impact of Boston, the baby and Morris Tshabalala on Tsotsi’s growth so far in the novel.

Tsotsi starts the novel as a cold, hardened criminal. He has rules by which he lives his life by, and they involve staying in control. Despite being influenced by characters mentioned, his harsh lifestyle and the external conditions created by the politics of the day bring him to a tragic end.

Boston is the character who likes to question things and seemingly has some send of ‘decency’ or conscience in the gang. Proof of his conscience is seen when he gets sick after they kill Gumboot Dlamini. With Boston constantly questioning Tsotsi, he eventually gets provoked to beat him up and then runs away. Tsotsi can’t get the questions out of his head and he starts to reflect and is rattled by his encounter. Running away from Boston catalyses the chain of events that will change Tsotsi further. Proof of his effect on Tsotsi is the fact Tsotsi consults Boston for advice once he realises, he wants to change. Tsotsi seeks redemption when he assists Boston with his wounds by taking him back to his shack and taking care of him and the changes in Tsotsi are revealed by the advice that he seeks from Boston.

On the fateful night that Tsotsi beats Boston up, he attempts to attack a young woman, but she hands him a box containing a baby instead. We see major change in Tsotsi’s thuggish exterior through this incident because instead of doing away with the baby he decides to keep it and doesn’t know why. He cares for the baby- getting it milk and keeping it among the ruins so it can be safe.

Tsotsi is unaware of the change taking place in him at his stage, but him hiding the baby shows the awareness that it goes against his sense of identity and doesn’t want anybody to know about it. His careful care for the baby shows that he has the capacity for humanity. Tsotsi’s need for family is revealed when he refuses to give the baby to Miriam to take care of it because he feels a connection to the child. Tsotsi names the baby “David” after himself which reveals his need for family and the fact that he is embracing his lighter side once his memories open up.

Tsotsi dies trying to protect the baby at the ruins which shows that he has learnt to care for someone other than himself and something other than the “present moment”. With Morris Tshabalala there is an incredibly striking encounter in terms of witnessing a change in Tsotsi. It is a moment in the novel his inner darkness and cruel instincts are overcome. Morris is a paraplegic and his disability reminds Tsotsi of the yellow dog- he is triggered by his memories being present on Morris’ appearance and this moves him to action. Tsotsi feels sorry for him and when the moment comes to attack Morris, a conversation takes place between the two and there is a distinct change in Tsotsi. Morris asks Tsotsi if he wants to live and this question makes him consider what living is. Tsotsi also decides to spare the man. A very tangible change in Tsotsi’s choices are evident in his discussion with Morris which enable Boston and the Baby to influence him even further. After this encounter, the reader witnesses a turning point in Tsotsi’s life where he starts to seek redemption.

Essay Question 5: Discuss how Tsotsi, Morris Tshabalala and the baby all embody the struggle to survive:

The struggle for survival is embodied in the characters of the novel, Tsotsi. While Tsotsi’s struggle relates to his painful and emotional journey of self-discovery, Morris Tshabalala has to deal with both physical and emotional hardships on a daily basis. The baby, who is abandoned by his mother, shows resilience and a fighting spirit in spite of the difficulties he faces.

Tsotsi’s struggle for survival relates to the emotional journey he undertakes to rediscover his identity. It is not an easy journey as Tsotsi has blocked out the memories of his past because of his traumatic separation from his mother when he was ten years old, as well as the events immediately afterwards when the yellow dog died in agony after being kicked by Tsotsi’s father.

As a result of this separation and witnessing violence, Tsotsi suppresses all his memories and takes on a new identity. He turns to crime and gangsterism and is feared by others. His violent and powerful nature makes it seem as if he is strong and therefore not struggling to survive, but the world in which he operates in is actually fragile. This is shown in the way he needs to live by “three rules”. Significantly “if he failed to observe them the trouble started.”

Tsotsi’s struggle for survival is also shown when he sometimes remembers things from the past, which would “stir and start associations charged with pain and misery inside him”. Tsotsi’s journey towards self-discovery exploration of his memories are ultimately necessary for him to survive.

However, it is not easy to confront the past and Tsotsi’s new struggle for survival means turning his back on the gang as he allows himself to remember the past. While he finds redemption and purpose in his life, he ultimately loses the struggle for survival when he dies.

Morris Tshabalala’s struggle for survival is seen in his daily suffering as a disabled man. He has a “bent and broken body” because of a mining accident after which he lost his legs. He crawls along the pavements like “a dog” on a leash begging for money.

He is restless and bitter and sees those around him as walking on “stolen legs”. When Morris is pursued by Tsotsi, his struggle becomes one of life and death. However, when his like is spared, he is grateful for his existence and finds meaning in the small things in life. The reader is left with the feeling that even though he will be faced with difficulties and challenges throughout his life, survival is what he will fight for.

The baby’s struggle for survival begins when he is abandoned by his mother and shoved into the hands of someone who is the antithesis of a caring person. In the few days that follow he is subjected to difficult physical circumstances: being left in the ruins on his own; having to lie in soiled and dirty clothes; being fed with condensed milk and ants attacking him. Nevertheless, the baby survives and is thrown a lifeline when Miriam comes into his life.

Tsotsi, Morris and the baby all demonstrate resilience and toughness in their respective struggles for survival. During their respective journeys, Tsotsi finds his real identity, Morris discovers a new meaning in life and the baby shows a strong will to live.

Essay Question 6: Discuss the themes of human decency and morality with the characters Tsotsi, Miriam, Boston and Morris

All of these characters to some extent demonstrate the quality of human decency. Morris is resentful of his circumstances but finds it within himself to be kind. Boston, by questioning Tsotsi about decency tries to come to terms with the conflict inside of him after robbing and killing Gumboot.

Miriam is the embodiment of generosity and kindness. Tsotsi starts feeling empathy in his encounter with the baby and Morris Tshabalala.

Tsotsi shows compassion by caring for the baby and deciding not to kill Morris. Boston challenges Tsotsi after the murder of Gumboot. This is the first time he mentions decency “I had a little bit of it so I was sick.” It is clear that Boston not only has conflict about the gang’s actions, but also his role in it. He seems to have lost his sense of decency taking part in the gang’s crimes.

However, by challenging Tsotsi, Boston sets him on a path of finding decency within himself. In spite of his own sense of failure, he shows human decency by trying to answer Tsotsi’s questions even after Tsotsi had beaten him severely.

Morris feels he should give back something after Tsotsi spares his life. Even after enduring hours of being pursued, he feels he must “give this strange and terrible night something back”. He tells Tsotsi that mothers love their children. Although he is bitter about his disabled body, he still finds it in him to be decent and kind to his tormentor.

Miriam has a generous spirit and shows this by caring for and feeding the baby. She also shows that she cares for Tsotsi and helps him to see the value of life. Finally, even Tsotsi shows human decency and kindness. By allowing himself to remember his past, he starts to feel emotions too. This is evident in his caring for the baby, when he decides to spare Morris’ life and when he takes care of Boston. He shows the ultimate “decency” when he sacrifices his life to save the baby from the bulldozers.

Athol Fugard has shown that most people are capable of decency. Even Tsotsi, a murderer, gangster and criminal, eventually shows decency. Someone like Morris with huge physical constraints, also proves that decency can be found in the most unlikely places. Boston has a constant need to do the right thing. He is honest with himself and shows decency to others. Miriam is the epitome of human decency.

Contributor: Caylin Riley

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‘Disability Intimacy’ starts a long-overdue conversation

Alice Wong, the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project

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Book Review

Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire

Edited by Alice Wong Vintage: 384 pages, $19 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from , whose fees support independent bookstores.

To whom does desire belong? How about love and care? These are the questions at the heart of “Disability Intimacy,” a new book of essays and ephemera collected by the San Francisco activist Alice Wong, and the answers are painfully obvious: Those human experiences are for everyone. What’s less obvious to many, and acutely painful to some of us, is that those questions needed to be asked and answered. This book needed to exist.

The cover of "Disability Intimacy"

It is a longstanding and unfortunate truth that disabled people are often seen as undesirable and even as unable to experience desire, love or care in the ways that all individuals do. As disabled people we understand how false that notion is and how harmful it can be. Giving and receiving love — physically or verbally, in a context of romance, sex, close friendship or family bonds — is as much our right to experience as anyone else’s, and our stories of intimate connections and losses are worth telling as much as anyone else’s. So I commend Wong and the collection’s 40 contributors for taking on this topic.

“Disability Intimacy” is not an extended lament. Many of its standouts are downright celebratory, as well as lessons in engaging storytelling. “The Last Walk” by Melissa Hung explores the grief of losing a beloved friend while simultaneously cherishing their last moments together and the sling bag that became a physical memory of her friend Judy. In “Hi, Are You Single?” by Ryan J. Haddad, one of the standout poems in the collection, Haddad explores the messy, awkward and welcome way a hookup can support their collective desire for pleasure.

Having contributed to and read Wong’s anthology from 2020, “Disability Visibility,” I thought I knew what I was getting into, but the two collections are quite different. It was disappointing to come away from “Intimacy” without a theme as clear as that of “Visibility,” perhaps in part reflecting the older collection’s more straightforward subject matter. Love is complicated. And 40 contributors is a lot.

As one of the first of its kind to attempt what it is attempting, “Disability Intimacy” has the unfair expectation to be everything for everyone, to answer the question of desirability for an entire community that is not monolithic. Wong refuses to shut out the “other” in favor of the conventionally digestible. This collection shines in its entries that take big swings, discussing topics such as BDSM, queer love and intergenerational relationships — and even laziness, a concept that one essay reclaims and celebrates as a purposeful act of rest, epitomized by the love between a father and son who connect over turning out the light and climbing in bed to take naps. In these pieces, the authors seem to be living as unapologetically on the page as they do in life.

Tucked among the essays, readers will be delighted to also discover poems and even a conversation between two disabled people of color about redefining intimacy for themselves, ableism and what they refuse to call intimacy. It’s a refreshing and effective shakeup of the anthology form. It’s also a lot to take in.

I had to reread certain sections as some of the points got lost along the way, and sometimes I found myself mentally rearranging the book because entries felt misplaced. Although many of the pieces could have been shorter, none should have been left out. Might the cause have been better served with these many entries divided between two volumes? This could have encouraged the reader to sit with the thoughts and feelings that come up rather than rushing onward.

There is often a lot of pressure placed on books of this kind that amplify marginalized voices or tackle taboo topics, but remember: Sometimes a book does the world a service not because it is encyclopedic or full of answers but simply because it raises questions and starts conversations.

In the end, what we readers ask of ourselves is what counts. Whom do we allow ourselves to desire, and why? Toward whose stories do we gravitate, and whom do we leave in the margins? How will we expand our own worldview?

Keah Brown , a journalist, activist, actor and screenwriter, is the author of “ The Pretty One ” and “ The Secret Summer Promise .”

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A Culture Warrior Takes a Late Swing

The editor and essayist Joseph Epstein looks back on his life and career in two new books.

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A photograph of a man riding a unicycle down the hallway of a home. He is wearing a blue button-down shirt, a dark tie and khakis.

By Dwight Garner

NEVER SAY YOU’VE HAD A LUCKY LIFE: Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life , by Joseph Epstein

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT: New and Selected Essays , by Joseph Epstein

When Tammy Wynette was asked to write a memoir in her mid-30s, she initially declined, she said in an interview, because “I didn’t think my life was over yet.” The publisher responded: Has it occurred to you that in 15 years no one might care? She wrote the book. “Stand by Your Man: An Autobiography” (1979) was a hit.

The essayist and editor Joseph Epstein — whose memoir “Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life,” is out now, alongside a greatest-hits collection titled “Familiarity Breeds Content” — has probably never heard Wynette sing except by accident. (In a 1993 essay, he wrote that he wished he didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, because it was a sign of a compromised intellect.) But his memoir illustrates another reason not to wait too long to commit your life to print.

There is no indication that Epstein, who is in his late 80s, has lost a step. His prose is as genial and bland, if comparison to his earlier work is any indication, as it ever was. But there’s a softness to his memories of people, perhaps because it was all so long ago. This is the sort of memoir that insists someone was funny, or erudite, or charismatic, while rarely providing the crucial details.

Epstein aw-shucks his way into “Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life” — pretending to be self-effacing while not being so in the least is one of his salient qualities as a writer — by warning readers, “I may not have had a sufficiently interesting life to merit an autobiography.” This is because he “did little, saw nothing notably historic, and endured not much out of the ordinary of anguish or trouble or exaltation.” Quickly, however, he concludes that his life is indeed worth relating, in part because “over the years I have acquired the literary skill to recount that life well.”

Here he is wrong in both directions. His story is interesting enough to warrant this memoir. His personal life has taken complicated turns. And as the longtime editor of the quarterly magazine The American Scholar, and a notably literate conservative culture warrior, he’s been in the thick of things.

He does lack the skill to tell his own story, though, if by “skill” we mean not well-scrubbed Strunk and White sentences but close and penetrating observation. Epstein favors tasseled loafers and bow ties, and most of his sentences read as if they were written by a sentient tasseled loafer and edited by a sentient bow tie.

He grew up in Chicago, where his father manufactured costume jewelry. The young Epstein was popular and, in high school, lettered in tennis. His title refers to being lucky, and a big part of that luck, in his estimation, was to grow up back when kids could be kids, before “the therapeutic culture” took over.

This complaint sets the tone of the book. His own story is set next to a rolling series of cultural grievances. He’s against casual dress, the prohibition of the word “Negro,” grade inflation, the Beat Generation, most of what occurred during the 1960s, standards slipping everywhere, de-Westernizing college curriculums, D.E.I. programs, you name it. His politics aren’t the problem. We can argue about those. American culture needs more well-read conservatives. The problem is that in his search for teachable moments, his memoir acquires the cardboard tone of a middling opinion column.

His youth was not all tennis lessons and root beer floats. He and his friends regularly visited brothels because, he writes, sex was not as easy to come by in the 1950s. He was kicked out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for his role in the selling of a stolen accounting exam to other students.

He was lucky to find a place at the University of Chicago, a place of high seriousness. The school changed him. He began to reassess his values. He began to read writers like Irving Howe, Sidney Hook, Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz, and felt his politics pull to the right.

After college, he was drafted into the Army and ended up in Little Rock, Ark., where he met his first wife. At the time, she was a waitress at a bar and restaurant called the Gar Hole. Here Epstein’s memoir briefly threatens to acquire genuine weight.

She had lost custody of her two sons after a divorce. Together they got them back, and she and Epstein had two sons of their own. After their divorce, Epstein took all four of the boys. This is grist for an entire memoir, but Epstein passes over it quickly. One never gets much of a sense of what his boys were like, or what it was like to raise them. He later tells us that he has all but lost touch with his stepsons and has not seen them for decades.

He worked for the magazine The New Leader and the Encyclopaedia Britannica before becoming the editor of The American Scholar in 1975. It was a position he would hold for 22 years. He also taught at Northwestern University for nearly three decades.

At The American Scholar he began to write a long personal essay in each issue, under the pseudonym Aristides. He wrote 92 of these, on topics such as smoking and envy and reading and height. Most ran to 6,500 words, or about 4,000 words longer than they should have been.

Many magazine editors like to write every so often, to keep a hand in. But there is something unseemly about an editor chewing up acres of space in his own publication on a regular basis. Editorially, it’s a droit du seigneur imposition.

A selection of these essays, as well as some new ones, can now be found in “Familiarity Breeds Content.” In his introduction to this book, Christopher Buckley overpraises Epstein, leaving the reader no choice but to start mentally pushing back.

Buckley calls Epstein “the most entertaining living essayist in the English language.” (Not while Michael Kinsley, Lorrie Moore, Calvin Trillin, Sloane Crosley and Geoff Dyer, among many others, walk the earth.) He repurposes Martin Amis’s comment about Saul Bellow: “One doesn’t read Saul Bellow. One can only reread him.” To this he adds, “Ditto Epstein.” (Epstein is no Saul Bellow.) Buckley says, “Joe Epstein is incapable of writing a boring sentence.”

Well. How about this one, from an essay about cats?

A cat, I realize, cannot be everyone’s cup of fur.

Or this one, from an essay about sports and other obsessions:

I have been told there are people who wig out on pasta.

Or this one, about … guess:

When I was a boy, it occurs to me now, I always had one or another kind of hat.
Juggling today appears to be undergoing a small renaissance.
If one is looking to save on fuel bills, politics is likely to heat up a room quicker than just about anything else.
In tennis I was most notable for flipping and catching my racket in various snappy routines.

The essays are, by and large, as tweedy and self-satisfied as these lines make them sound. There are no wild hairs in them, no sudden deepenings of tone. Nothing is at stake. We are stranded with him on the putt-putt course.

Epstein fills his essays with quotation after quotation, as ballast. I am a fan of well-deployed, free-range quotations. So many of Epstein’s are musty and reek of Bartlett’s. They are from figures like Lord Chesterfield and Lady Mary Montagu and Sir Herbert Grierson and Tocqueville and Walpole and Carlyle. You can feel the moths escaping from the display case in real time.

To be fair, I circled a few sentences in “Familiarity Breeds Content” happily. I’m with him on his distrust of “fun couples.” He writes, “A cowboy without a hat is suitable only for bartending.” I liked his observation, which he borrowed from someone else, that a career has five stages:

(1) Who is Joseph Epstein? (2) Get me Joseph Epstein. (3) We need someone like Joseph Epstein. (4) What we need is a young Joseph Epstein. (5) Who is Joseph Epstein?

It’s no fun to trip up a writer on what might have been a late-career victory lap. Epstein doesn’t need me to like his work. He’s published more than 30 books, and you can’t do that unless you’ve made a lot of readers happy.

NEVER SAY YOU’VE HAD A LUCKY LIFE : Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life | By Joseph Epstein | Free Press | 287 pp. | $29.99

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT : New and Selected Essays | By Joseph Epstein | Simon & Schuster | 441 pp. | Paperback, $20.99

Dwight Garner has been a book critic for The Times since 2008, and before that was an editor at the Book Review for a decade. More about Dwight Garner

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  1. Tsotsi Study Guide

    Athol Fugard is more famous as a playwright than as a novelist—he has written dozens of plays but only one novel, Tsotsi.Like Tsotsi, many of Fugard's plays criticize South African apartheid, a social system operating from the late 1940s to early 1990s that legally enforced racial segregation and discrimination against non-white South Africans.

  2. Novel-tsotsi essays

    Novel, Tsotsi, essays identify the positive and negative occurrences that shape life in the novel, tsotsi athol fugard, the main character can be seen as. Skip to document. ... The novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard, is a story of redemption and reconciliation, facing the past, and confronts the core elements of human nature. ...

  3. Essay on Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard

    Tsotsi is a thug, someone who kills for money and suffers no remorse. But he starts changing when circumstance finds him in possession of a baby, which acts as a catalyst in his life. A chain of events leads him to regain memories of his childhood and discover why he is the way he is. The novel sets parameters of being " human " and brings ...

  4. Tsotsi (novel)

    Tsotsi is the only novel written by South African playwright Athol Fugard (born 1932). It was published in 1980 although written some time earlier, and it was the basis of the 2005 film of the same name. It has been republished in several editions including in 2019 by Canongate (ISBN 978-1786896155).

  5. Tsotsi essay

    Tsotsi essay in athol tragic novel, the theme of personal development and redemption is within the main character, tsotsi, as his encounter with other. Skip to document. ... It is at this point in the novel that Tsotsi's inner darkness and cruel instincts are overcome as this memory provokes a feeling of sympathy in Tsotsi and leads him to ...

  6. Tsotsi, Athol Fugard Analysis

    Posted on Jun 4, 2012 by The Book Lover's Sanctuary. So these are the ideas which I have been discussing with my class. Tsotsi is set in 1956, give or take, in Sophiatown, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. It was written by Fugard in the early months of 1960 after Sophiatown had been destroyed by the white community in ...

  7. Gang Violence and Postcolonial Survival in Athol Fugard'S Tsotsi

    Tsotsi has been described as 'the work of a writer sympathetically attached to and shocked by the violent poverty of Johannesburg township life', 35 a novel that 'shares something of the metatextual dimension of [Fugard's] theatrical masterpieces of the sixties and seventies'. 36 The protagonist is a young man who leads a gang of thugs ...

  8. PDF Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

    represents, especially for Tsotsi himself. 2) Review the extract beginning 'A yellow bitch …' p.58 to '… to feed it again.' p.59. Answer the following question in essay form, using quotations from this extract: How does Fugard portray the importance of this turning point for the main character? Further essay practice / extension tasks

  9. Tsotsi Redemption Essay

    In conclusion, "Tsotsi" is a powerful novel about redemption. Athol Fugard masterfully tells the story of a violent gangster who undergoes a profound transformation. Through his relationship with a baby, Tsotsi learns to connect with his own humanity, and he ultimately finds redemption.

  10. Literary essay

    Literary essay - Tsotsi. 1. Writing A Literary Essay Focused on "Tsotsi". 2. EXAMPLE OF A LITERARY ESSAY TOPIC: Tsotsi's decisions are justified by his environment. Discuss the truth of this statement in an essay of 300 - 350 words. (2 - 2½ pages) OR The theme of Apartheid plays a significant role in Tsotsi.

  11. Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

    Tsotsi is a real find, by one of the most affecting and moving writers of our time (Financial Times)-- and the novel is now being reissued to coincide with the release of a feature film, which is already being compared to 2004's runaway hit City of God. One of the world's pre-eminent playwrights, who could be a primary candidate for either the Nobel Prize in Literature or the Nobel Peace Prize ...

  12. Tsotsi Grade 11 Essay Questions and Answers (Memo)

    Essay Question 4: Tsotsi is influenced to undergo a process of personal development by his encounters with certain characters. Discuss the impact of Boston, the baby and Morris Tshabalala on Tsotsi's growth so far in the novel. Tsotsi starts the novel as a cold, hardened criminal.

  13. Tsotsi Summary, Notes, Essays, character Analysis and extra

    The document consists of a detailed summary of the Novel Tsotsi (12 chapters), Has a character Analysis, literature essays on Tsotsi, Key themes in Tsotsi and extra information related to Tsotsi. 100% satisfaction guarantee Immediately available after payment Both online and in PDF No strings attached.

  14. Tsotsi : a novel : Fugard, Athol : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming

    Tsotsi : a novel by Fugard, Athol. Publication date 1980 Topics Criminals, Infants Publisher New York : Random House Collection inlibrary; printdisabled; internetarchivebooks Contributor Internet Archive Language English. Access-restricted-item true Addeddate 2012-08-21 21:06:15

  15. 2023-GR.-11- Practice- Tsotsi- Literary- Essay- Template

    PRACTICE 'TSOTSI' ESSAY TOPIC. Discuss how the arrival of the baby in Tsotsi's life causes him to break his three rules. EXAMPLE OF HOW TO START THE INTRODUCTION: (1) In Athol Fugard's novel 'Tsotsi', (2) the arrival of the baby in Tsotsi's life causes him to break his self-imposed rules. (3) NOW WRITE YOUR OWN THESIS STATEMENT.

  16. Tsotsi

    Tsotsi is a 2005 crime drama film written and directed by Gavin Hood and produced by Peter Fudakowski.It is an adaptation of the novel Tsotsi by Athol Fugard, and is a South African/UK co-production.Set in the Alexandra slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, it stars Presley Chweneyagae as David/Tsotsi (Tsotsitaal, meaning "criminal"), a young street thug who steals a car only to discover a baby ...

  17. 'Disability Intimacy' starts a long-overdue conversation

    Book Review. Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire. Edited by Alice Wong Vintage: 384 pages, $19 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop ...

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  19. IUBMB Life Call for Papers Special Issue on Environmental Management

    IUBMB Life is the flagship journal of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and is devoted to the rapid publication of the most novel and significant short articles, reviews and papers in the broadly defined fields of biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and molecular medicine.

  20. Book Review: Joseph Epstein's New Memoir and Book of Essays

    The essays are, by and large, as tweedy and self-satisfied as these lines make them sound. There are no wild hairs in them, no sudden deepenings of tone. Nothing is at stake. We are stranded with ...

  21. Eng HL Gr 11 Notes

    In the outset of the novel Tsotsi beats Boston because of these questions and he accuses Tsotsi of having no decency. This influences Tsotsi's decisions throughout the book. At the end of the novel Tsotsi seeks Boston out and cares for him in order to try and discover answers to similar questions that Boston was asking earlier. Boston acts as ...

  22. Read this incredible essay about Magneto, Judaism, and the legacy of

    Over at Defector, writer Asher Elbein just published one of the single best pop culture-politics crossover essays I've read in a long time.In The Judgement of Magneto, Elbein expertly analyzes the ...