The Struggle to Survive

Iswariya Baskar & Nishi Patel


In Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane is born into poverty-stricken family in South Africa during the apartheid years. Throughout his childhood, he suffers hunger, witnesses violence, and learns to fear and hate whites.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs defines Mark's ever developing mental and emotional capacity, The struggle to survive opens Mark up to different ordeals and experiences that eventually allow him to rise up the Hierarchy in order to understand himself and the people around him

3 different themes.

#1. Hunger was the primary ordeal that Mark had to face; it made him eager to leave poverty, willing to accept it, and able to surpass it.

Quote #1
Pangs of hunger melted my resentment of my father away, and now that he was gone I longed night and day for his return. I didn't even mind his coming back and shouting restrictions at me and making me perform rituals. I simply wanted him back. And as days slid by without him, as I saw other children in the company of their fathers, I would cry. His absence showed me how much I loved him. I never stopped asking questions about when he would be coming back. (6.8)

Though Mark suffered when Papa was around, he suffered even more when Papa was gone. One of the reasons that Mark suffered more when Papa was not around is that his basic needs were no longer met.

Quote #2
Each day we spent without food drove us closer and closer to starvation. Then terror struck. I began having fainting spells. I would be out playing when suddenly my head would feel light, my knees would wobbles, my vision would dim and blur and down I would come like a log. (6.24)

The lack of food taught him the value of nutrition and a full belly. It taught him to work hard in order to not have to face what he did during his childhood.

Quote #3
But things didn't get better. If they did, I didn't notice it. Gradually, I came to accept hunger as a constant companion. But this new hunger was different. It filled me with hatred, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, loneliness, selfishness and a cynical attitude toward people. It seemed to lurk everywhere about and inside me: in the things I touched, in the people I talked to, in the empty pots, in the black children I played with, in the nightmares I dreamt. It even pervaded the air I breathed. At times it was the silent destroyer, creeping in unseen, unrecognized, except when, like a powerful time bomb, it would explode inside my guts. At other times it took the form of a dark, fanged beast, and hovered constantly over my dizzy head, as if about to pounce on me and gouge my guts out with its monstrous talons. (10.58)

Mama keeps reassuring Mark that things will get better. Instead, however, the constant hunger turns into rage and anger. Because they lack the money for electricity, the family suffers through the biting winter cold, and almost dies as a result.

#2. The Struggle to Find the Right Path

Mark Quickly learns that in the society he lives in, there are many different outcomes for a boy like him. The chances of them being "well-to-do" are minuscule. He must face many struggles in order to learn which is the correct path for him
Quote #4

"' You said you wanted free food, didn't you? Now eat; it's free.'

Though I was hungry and my stomach growled because of it, I refused the piece of liver for the second time, and I moved a few paces away from the group." (Mathabane 71).

This occurs when Mark is attempting to find a place to get food since he is constantly facing hunger. However, after agreeing to go into the tsotsi barracks, he realizes the mistake he has made, and desperately runs away to survive and remember the day.

Quote #5

"'You shouldn't have told him that he's being taken to school,' my mother said. 'he doesn't want to go there. That's why I requested you come today, to help me take him there. Those boys in the streets have been a bad influence on him.'" (Mathabane 125).

Mark faces another bad influence that he soon has to face. But, for now, he has his mother, who can allow Mark to learn to survive the longest using the best influences and studies he can gain through school.

#3. The Consequences of these struggles

These difficulties that Mark faces not only make him stronger, they also put responsibility onto his shoulders earlier, allow him to recognize opportunities in a decisive manner, and make him persistent enough to want to go beyond survival to success.

Quote #6

"My tenth birthday came and went away, like all the other nine, uncelebrated. Having never had a normal childhood, I didn't miss birthdays; to me they were simply like other days: to be survived. Strangely, however, on each birthday I somehow got the feeling that I had aged more than a year. Suffering seemed to age more than birthdays. Though I was only ten, black life seemed to have, all along, been teaching me the same lessons of survival, and making the same demands upon me for that survival, as it was doing to grown-ups. Thus, emotionally, I had aged far beyond my ten years." (27.1)

Mark, at a young age is forced to grow up quickly because of the many ordeals he has faced and will have to face soon. The issues occurring in the Black ghettos force him to be knowledgeable about the workings of society or pay.

Discussion Questions.

Attempt to answer these questions using the hierarchies in Maslow's theory. Use the level given to you and try to answer in a manner as one in that level would do.

1. Is surviving only defined as doing the bare minimum possible to avoid harsh confrontation with any issue? Or is there more to it?

2. If Mark faced such ordeals in his struggle to survive, was his dream to travel to America only a result of the belief that survival would be easier here?

3. Does wanting to eliminate racism reflect the need to survive equally or does it attempt to symbolize a goal, purpose, and hope beyond that of survival?

4. When does Mark stop wanting to survive and begin dreaming of achievement and success?

(does he ever?)

5. In the modern world where does the struggle to survive continue? Where in the world do people still only attempt to manage Maslow's physiological stage of development? Where have people achieved reaching the stage of self-actualization?

6. Why do humans strive to reach higher and higher, even after they have accomplished survival? What makes us seek achievement, talent, and success, rather than just survival?