Follow Us by Email

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Boy on a Swing by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Set during the apartheid regime in South Africa, the poem x-rays the cruelty of the apartheid system and the struggle for freedom by the African natives. During the apartheid era, the freedom and rights of blacks were repressed. It was a time when colour bar held sway. There was racial segregation between the black and white communities. Many young and vibrant activists in South Africa were incarcerated because of their agitation for a class-free society.

Due to the unfavourable policy of the white minority government of that time, many black African men worked under harsh conditions to earn a living. Apartheid was an instrument of governance to subdue black people. Governmental policies were only enjoyed by the whites.

The poem begins with the description of a lonely happy boy playing on a swing as he “moves to and fro” and “swishes up and down” in ecstasy, apparently enjoying himself without an iota of concern for any other thing happening in his society. His father is in jail, probably because he has protested against the apartheid rule. The mother becomes the breadwinner of the house in the absence of the father. The poor black boy with a blue shirt “like a tattered kite” doesn’t seem to care about his status as a second class citizen in his own country, the massive injustice and oppression of his people.

As he swings himself faster and faster, “the world whirls by” and he begins to experience a dramatic transformation. He becomes more mature and self-conscious of his hampering world. He advances from a state of ignorance to self-awareness. He is no longer the playful boy. As thoughts whirl and “meet in his head”, his mind is full of ideas, and so he begins to ask questions. “The four cardinal points” refers to the assembly of different ethnic groups in South Africa to form the African National Congress (ANC) in order to agitate for the emancipation of black people in South Africa.

With his growth and movement to self-awareness, the boy asks his mother series of questions. “Where did I come from?” Here, the boy is questioning his identity which he seems to have lost. He wants to become a man of freedom and will. So, he asks when he would eventually wear long trousers. The last line questions the reason why is father is in jail. At this point, the boy is probing the injustice and oppression meted out to his people.

In other words, the poem reveals the movement of black South Africans from total ignorance to self-consciousness, agitation and political independence. The last three lines of rhetorical questions in the poem capture the readiness of black South-African natives to question the outright maginalisation, inhumane treatment and the continued occupation of their political territory by the white minority. They are now enlightened and set to reclaim their dignity and self-worth, contrary to the racist belief of the apartheid masters that the black natives are not capable of logical reasoning and self-government.

In conclusion, the poem depicts the dehumanised South-African people moving from a stage of innocence to a state of awareness and political maturity.

The cruelty of the apartheid era
Change is a constant thing
The value of self-awareness
Education brings about enlightenement
The dangers of racism

The poem is written in 16 lines of four stanzas. The last three lines ends with rhetorical questions

Follow and engage @alakowe_review on Twitter for up-to-date literary analysis of poems.

No comments:

Post a Comment