Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard Essay

Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard Essay

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The novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard, is a story of redemption and reconciliation, facing the past, and confronts 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 in a poor 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. 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 these to the consideration of the reader. The reader’s limits of redemption are challenged as Tsotsi comes from a life lacking what the novel suggests are base human emotions.

The word Tsotsi means “thug”, which is what the character is portrayed as at the start of the novel. He kills for the money to survive, but the manner in which he does suggests it is not out of necessity but rather choice. When killing a man in public for his money, he “smiled at the growing bewilderment on the big bastard’s face... Even as that was happening, Tsotsi bent close to the dying man and in his ear whispered an obscene reference to his mother” (12). The novel suggests that he kills not from desperation, but as a way of life. His reasons are psychological. “The big men, the brave ones, stood down because of him, the fear was of him, the hate was for him. It was all there because of him. He knew he was.” (7). Tsotsi kills not only for survival, but as a way of justifying his existence, a way of confirming that he does exist. This makes more sense when his fear is explained, a fear of nothingness. He kill...

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...ell of the church of Christ the Redeemer is tolling” (122). Its position in the storyline, the fact that it is the church of Christ the Redeemer and the present tense are a technique used to suggest that at that point Tsotsi is redeeming himself. The novel ends with Tsotsi sacrificing himself for a baby, which is the final act committed in redemption.

Tsotsi begins as a thug, suffering no remorse. But he 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 parameters 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.

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