Crackling Day By Peter Abrahams

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“Crackling day’ is a story about a young black boy in South Africa that challenges three white youths and, in so doing, challenges the political system of the whole country. The very famous writer Peter Abrahams wrote it.

It set in Africa in the times of apartheid. Apartheid was a “system’ or a mentality as it were was apposed on South Africa after the Second World War and the country gained independence from Great Britain. This did not mean that it would be the South Africans that “ran’ the country, as it was the British that were still in control.

Apartheid laws were imposed on South Africa in 1948 and on June 13, 1950 the Group Areas Act was enacted. It segregated communities and relegated the black population to a minor percentage of the nation’s land, therefore meaning that white people mostly owned the land and the land on which the black people resided was often not even theirs. Everyone in the country had to register themselves as white, black (African), or coloured (of mixed race e.

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g. Asian).

In 1953, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed, which empowered the government to declare stringent states of emergency and increased penalties for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law. The penalties included fines, imprisonment and whippings. In 1960, a large group of blacks in Sharpsville refused to carry their passes; the government declared a state of emergency. The emergency lasted for 156 days, leaving 69 people dead and 187 people wounded.

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Wielding the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the white regime had no intention of changing the unjust laws of apartheid.

In 1989 there were approximately 19 million blacks in the country and on 4.5 million whites and yet whites had 87% of the land and blacks owned only 13%. The whites also received about 75% of the countries income with the blacks receiving 25% or less. The health and education services that blacks were allowed was also appalling with one doctor per 44,000 blacks whereas the whites had one doctor per 400 people and 1 teacher per 60 blacks whereas there was 1 teacher per 22 whites.

Apartheid and how it affected people is the main subject of the story and can clearly be seen throughout. Lee had to collect cow dung everyday so that he, his Aunt and his Uncle could use it as fuel. It was the only material that they could use for cooking and as a fire, possibly the only thing that they could use to keep their “house’ warm. Lee and all “the children of the location made the long trek to Elsberg siding for the square of pig’s rind that passed for out daily meat’. The children had to do this once a week, every Wednesday. Also not the place where the lived was simply “the location’ and had no name, whereas the place they were heading towards (where all the white people lived) did have a name, Elsberg.

This gives the reader the thought that where the black people lived was considered a place that didn’t matter hence it had no name. Elsberg was also not a close by town; it was a “long trek’. This meant that the white people lived far away from the blacks, coincidence or purposefully put so that they were split up from each other? From the evidence and the time in which the story is set I would have to say that this was no coincidence. In the time of Apartheid the different “race groups’ were split up and it is therefore my conclusion that the whites did not want to live near the blacks, whereas the blacks had no choice.

What we also notice that is a very important fact is that they cannot have any “daily meat’ and are instead walking miles for some pig crackling. This is not a nutritious thing to eat but they either couldn’t afford to buy meat or are not allowed any by the “baas’. The crackling that they do get is not even given to them. Earlier in the story we read that Lee’s Aunt wore a “thin’ (she, therefore is thin) dress with a pocket that was “nearest the skin’ and that “from this she pulled a sixpenny piece’ and “tied it in a knot on the corner on the corner of a bit of coloured cloth’. With this sixpenny (worth about 2.5 pence in today’s money) he bought the crackling off of the white man. Also note that it says that Lee “tucked it into the little canvas bag’. The word little is quite emotive as it shows that Lee does not have much.

The man that was serving the crackling to the black children “did it in leisurely fashion, with long pauses for a smoke’ and he “occasionally turned his back’. From this we can see the affects of apartheid and what it does to people. The “young man’ that was serving them was taking his time, and being facetious, flippant and dismissive. Not only that, but he was doing this towards young children. We can see that apartheid has made this young man think that he is greater than black children. This, therefore in his mind has justified his actions in believing he had the right to behave in such a manner. Apartheid, being part of South Africa’s legislation did give him the right to act in this manner by law.

Along with apartheid in “Crackling Day’, there are also tough living conditions evident. Lee lives with his Uncle and Aunt but it is the white man’s land that they are living on. We can see this when later in the story the white man wants Uncle Sam to “teach him’ and warns Sam “if you and he are to live here, you must teach him’. From this we can see that the white man wants Lee to be “taught a lesson’ but does not want to have to punish him himself. It would be much more upsetting for Sam, Liza and Lee if Sam himself did it.

Note that he does not include Aunt Liza when he is talking about the people living on his land. This is because in the times of apartheid it wasn’t just racism that was infection, it was sexism as well. Aunt Liza, being a woman, was not considered much and not worth much. This plays a crucial part later on in that particular scene.

Lee also had to walk out in the cold with bare feet and they therefore cannot afford or obtain shoes.

The author also uses different language styles to emphasize just how tough it is. He uses hyperbole like when he said “after what seemed hours’. He uses personification of the cold so that it makes us picture in our minds just how bad it is and how much of a “cruel enemy’ it was. He uses similes like when he said that the morning air “went down my throat like an icy draught’. He uses alliteration like when he said that the “sun sat high in the sky’. Note he also used alliteration and personification and alliteration in that last sentence saying that the sun “sat’.

To always have to be humble, differential and submissive in the presence of someone who is so arrogant, aggressive and forceful cannot be easy. They also have to deal with collecting cow dung for fuel, eating only crackling and bread for which they have to walk for hours for, always having to “turn the other cheek’ and deal with all the rest of the immoral acts injustices that they are regularly put through.

As a result of these facts, all the characters feel fear and need to show courage on a daily basis. Some examples of the difficult conditions which individual characters face are like when Lee and Andreas were startled by a “Boer dog’ (Boer being the term that described the settlers that came from Europe and Settled in South Africa). These dogs were trained to kill black people and this is something that young children had to face. The two had to get away from the dog (even though it was behind a fence).

Uncle Sam has to live in fear of the white man because, by law, he is their superior and the fact that they are living on his land means that he could throw them out into the realms of homelessness where the destitute struggle.

However, there are also specific incidents, which reveal the themes of courage and fear. The most prolific, courageous and important incident was one that seemed almost hidden. After Uncle Sam had beaten Lee the white man and the boys were leaving. The white man said “Good Night’ to Sam, to which Sam replied “Good night baas, sorry about all this’. The white man then said “Good night, Liza’ and “Liza did not answer’. This is very significant, as not replying to the white man could be shown as disrespectful and even breaking the law. The family could have been thrown off of the land for it. But, as stated earlier Aunt Liza is a woman and as such was considered not worth it by the white man.

Just Before this Aunt Liza had also shown courage. After Sam had beaten Lee the white man said “bet his father’s one of those who believe in equality’. Aunt Liza said very bluntly to this “his father is dead’. This was not a humble thing to say, which was what was expected of her being black and a woman.

Lee showed courage on two occasions. The first was when he and Andreas were running away from the white boys who were shouting at them “your fathers are dirty black bastards of baboons!’ Lee showed courage by stopping, turning round and “screaming’ “You’re a Liar!’ What prepared us for this was the fact that when Andreas was telling Lee that they should run and then changed his mind and told him to walk quietly Lee kept on asking “why?’ Lee wasn’t as “street-wise’ as it were when it came to avoiding the white children and how to act around white people. This is probably due to Lee being an “out-of-towner’ and he had just come from Johannesburg. This was courageous in the sense that not only was he standing up to the white boys but also he was standing up to the whole political system of the country.

The second time that Lee showed courage was when Uncle Sam told Lee to tell the white man that he is sorry. This he did not and instead pleaded “he insulted my father’. This is a lot of courage to show for a small boy, and I don’t think it was out of stubbornness.

In “Crackling Day’ Lee faces many challenges: he feels fear and displays courage in dealing with his fears. One example of this is the cold whether. Lee has to go out every Wednesday and walk for hours in the cold. He first shows courage out of dealing with this instead of winging about it, he even “trotted off’ as if he was willing to go. This shows he has a positive attitude towards this, which in itself requires tremendous courage.

The author talks about the cold a lot during the story. He also utilizes different language styles to do so.

He started by using similes about how cold the morning air was: “There was a sharp bite to the morning air I sucked in; it stung my nose so that tears came to my eyes; it went down my throat like an icy draught; my nose ran’. That was a long sentence! He uses this repetition for the sake of emphasis and effect. He also used a simile in there when it said “it went down my throat like an icy draught’. This is to give the reader the right picture and feeling of what it’s like and how hard it is for Lee. So in one sentence he put in repetition and a simile.

The story continues: “I tried breathing through my mouth, but this was worse. The cold went through my shirt and shorts; my skin went pimply and chilled; my fingers went numb and began to ache; my feet felt like frozen lumps that did not belong to me, yet jarred and hurt each time I put them down. I began to feel sick and desperate’. The second sentence again had repetition and a simile. So from that paragraph there is a long sentence, a short one, a long one, and again a short one. All this adds up to allow some insight as to what it was like for him. We can see how immoral it is for this young boy to have to go through all the suffering, not once, but every Wednesday.

It then says later on: “We were creatures haunted and hounded by the cold.’ There’s a metaphor. “It was a cruel enemy who gave no quarter’. That’s very emotive personification. “And our meanings of fighting it were pitifully inadequate. In all the mornings and evenings of the winter months, young and old, big and small, were helpless victims of the bitter cold.’ Now the writer has started referring to the cold as “it’ and “bitter’.

The story continues: “Only toward noon and in the early afternoon, when the sun sat high in the sky, was there a brief respite.’ There we have two instances of alliteration. “For us, the children, the cold, especially the morning cold, assumed an awful a malevolent personality.’ A lot of personification there, even describing “its’ personality! “We talked of “it’. “It’ was a half-human monster with evil thoughts, evil intentions, bent on destroying us.’ Much more personification that helps us see how much of an “enemy’ the cold was.

The author has just “painted us a picture’ of what it was like for these two boys and how the hated and feared the cold.

All of this tells us that Lee and Andreas are two boys that accept the way that they have to live and face it with courage and with a positive attitude. They realise that that is the society that they have to live in and accept their lives.

Another thing that Lee and Andreas fear is Hunger. The author shows this by, again, using personification and use of language.

We are told “Hunger was an enemy too, but one with whom we could come terms, who had many values and virtues’. We are told here how hunger was also an enemy but not as bad as the cold. The author uses personification of these two factors (the cold and the hunger) is very skilfully.

The incident with the man giving out the crackling demonstrates the theme of power and it’s importance in society. As stated earlier the man that was serving the crackling to the black children “did it in leisurely fashion, with long pauses for a smoke’ and he “occasionally turned his back’. Lee, Andreas and the rest of the black children have to call the white man “baas’ as a sign of respect. The white man wouldn’t serve Lee until he did: ” “well?” the man repeated coldly. “Please, baas,’ I said. “What d’you want?” “Sixpence crackling, please.” “What?” Andreas dug me in the ribs. “Sixpence crackling, please.” “What?” “Sixpence crackling, please, baas”‘.

We can see that the white man has far more power than Lee or Andreas and as such they have to treat him as their superior.

To respond in the way that Lee and Aunt Liza did to their fear demands courage because by law they are in the wrong. When Lee stands up to the white boys and when Aunt Liza stands up to the white man they are also standing up to the entire political system of their culture at that time. For doing so they could be beaten, thrown off of the white man’s land or even killed.

The author is showing the difference in position between whites and blacks. He does this by showing that the man selling the crackling and the white man that owns the land can do whatever pleases them and get the black people to do whatever pleases them. The black people have to respond by being humble, differential and submissive.

The character of Uncle Sam is what would be expected of him in that culture and time period.

When he came home and Aunt Liza told him what had happened the author says “he, too, just looked at me and became more remote and withdrawn. They were waiting for something.’ Uncle Sam and Aunt Liza knew that that got beaten up by Lee would probably either tell his parents or his parents would see the bruises and ask what had happened. They knew that the white man would be coming round to their house to enquire what had happened. Uncle Sam was probably in a state of fear, of the white man, hence him becoming “remote’ and “withdrawn’.

Another thing that displays that he is in a state of fear is that when they heard “a trap pull up outside’ Uncle Sam simply says “here it comes.’ When people are anxious, worried or afraid they tend to murmur or talk quickly.

When the door “burst open’ and the “tall, broad white man strode in’ Uncle Sam greeted him in a respectful, humble manner (what was expected of him) by saying “Evening, baas’ and the text then tells us “Uncle Sam murmured’. It even tells us that he is murmuring! It then later says ” “He’s sorry, baas,” Uncle Sam said quickly’. This definitely tells us that he is afraid of something as he is talking “quickly’.

Uncle Sam does show courage when he lies to the white man. He tells him “I’ve given him a hiding he won’t forget’. The white man could easily find out, by examining Lee and this, again, could get the family thrown off of the white man’s land.

When Lee doesn’t tell the white man that he is sorry and instead says that they “insulted’ his father the white man makes Uncle Sam beat Lee. As he is doing so he says “You must never lift your hand to a white person’ and it describes him as saying so “bitterly’. He is saying it “bitterly’ because of course he doesn’t want to have to hurt Lee. Sam beats Lee because he knows that he has to. If he doesn’t then all manner of things could happen to him, Liza and Lee, the least of which being thrown off of the white man’s land.

After they have left Sam begins to sob. This is because he feels so guilty and angry with himself, the white man, and the political system that they have to live under.

The next day he simply says to Aunt Liza “One day”¦’ This is a threat towards the white man and, again the political system. It is probably an empty and hollow threat but he has to keep thinking this to give him a reason to be angry and something to be angry at.

The next day Liza was “dishing out the food’ to Sam and Lee and “insistently’ reassured Sam “It’s all right’. Liza understood that Sam did what he had to do and that Sam was feeling guilty. She knew that he needed some comfort and assurance that what he did was what he had to.

In conclusion, the types of courage and fears demonstrated in “Crackling Day’ are facing up to reality, doing what you have to do, though it may not be right, standing up to what you feel is wrong. All the main black characters through the story show some type of fear one-way of another.

Uncle Sam was afraid of the results if he did not do what the white man told him but he still did not want to hurt Lee. Sam’s courage was lying to the white man in a desperate attempt to prevent Lee from being hurt or being completely exposed to the injustice and immorality of apartheid.

Aunt Liza showed incredible courage when she did not reply to the white man even though she knew that it might cause the family to suffer.

Lee and Andreas both showed fear by actually going out and facing the cold, hunger and the long hours of walking.

Lee single-handedly showed courage when he stood up to the white boys and when he did not say he was sorry (the first time anyway) to the white man.

The message the author is trying to communicate in “Crackling Day’ is that fear and a hard way of life bring courage and even the most unlikely people can be the most courageous.

I think the main point that the author was trying to put to the reader is the immorality of apartheid and racism and what it can do to people physically and mentally.

Cite this page

Crackling Day By Peter Abrahams. (2016, Jul 12). Retrieved from

Crackling Day By Peter Abrahams

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