Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story profiles the lives of two black children living in Apartheid-era South Africa; they travel to Johannesburg to see their mother, who is a servant in the home of a white family. During the story, the children see, live, and experience the harsh reality and dangers of trying to exist in a country that for decades was caught a struggle between oppression and freedom. Below is an examination of the story’s point of view, setting, theme, and tone.
Point of View: The omniscient point of view prevails in Journey to Jo’Burg. The unidentified narrator brings the story to the page with a sense of keen awareness as to the troubling station in which Naledi and Tiro find themselves as young children in a hostile nation. The travails that transpire as they set forth to find their mother are adeptly told by the narrator, who has the great ability as an omniscient voice to give us greater insight on the life of Naledi, who is presented here as perhaps this story’s most dynamic character (though Mma, for her struggles and experiences, also is well portrayed by the narrator).
Setting: The physical setting of the story shifts from a far-flung rural village to the busy streets of Johannesburg. The plot unfolds in the mid-1980s, which was a particularly pivotal time in South Africa’s Apartheid era. The end of Apartheid was still roughly a decade away, and anti-Apartheid protests were met with brutal police action. While the Apartheid government clearly condoned most of the harsh restrictions and uses of force against black people in South Africa, much of the rest of the world did not. Many nations boycotted anything that had to do with South Africa’s commerce. As seen in the story, Johannesburg was abuzz, for the city remains in the story (as was the case in reality) very much the central player in the South African economy.
Theme: The story’s theme is that of hope and freedom. Naledi learns throughout the course of the story that her fate in Apartheid South Africa is not unlike that of her mother; the school she attends tracks its students to become subservient employees of the white social class. Naledi loves Mma, though the young girl hopes to be more than a servant, farm worker, or lowly laborer, a class to which her mother belongs. The story thus shows that it is perfectly okay to dream, even amid conditions that very much run contrary to allowing individuals to achieve. Freedom, too, is the aim in this Apartheid South African story. Interestingly, this book was published in 1986, years before Apartheid formally ended. That fact only further illustrates the veracity and importance of this book’s overall theme of hope for a better future. Even in the darkest of times, the yearning for a brighter future is never a futile ambition.
Tone: The tone in this book is generally sympathetic toward the main characters in the story and to all other players, both major and minor, which have been stung by the Apartheid realities of South Africa. The Apartheid police forces in South Africa are cast in nearly evil portrayals. Meanwhile, the tone becomes somewhat annoyed when referencing the white family for which Mma works or Johannesburg’s segregated public accommodations. The story’s tone clearly resonates a sense of hope and longing within the frame of reference to the main characters, though uncertainty as to when better times, dignity, and prosperity may ever come waft from nearly every page.
My reading of Journey to Jo’Burg: A South African Story. Naidoo, B. HarperCollins Publishers, 1986.