What does the title “Born a Crime” mean?

In the most literal sense, the title “Born a Crime” refers to the fact that the relationship which led to Trevor’s birth, one between a Black woman and a white man, was illegal under apartheid law. Trevor’s very existence is evidence of his parents’ illegal actions, although he spends much of the novel questioning what criminality really means. The surprising nature of the title hints at this thematic exploration by highlighting the absurdity of his particular crime. 

How does Patricia challenge the social norms of the highly segregated world around her?

Throughout the novel, Noah depicts his mother as a strong and determined woman who refuses to let the values of others control her life. She leaves her family as a young woman due to her desire to pursue a life of opportunity in the city, despite such a life being legally inaccessible to her as a Black woman. Patricia’s most notable act of defiance, of course, is her decision to have a son with a white man under apartheid. She continues to resist the norms of her culture even after Trevor is born and after apartheid falls, boldly standing up for herself and her son in a way that few other women of her generation could. 

What is the “black tax”?

Noah first refers to the idea of the “black tax” in Chapter 5 and attributes the phrase to his mother, explaining that she uses it to describe the intergenerational struggle to achieve equity that poor Black families experience. Due to long histories of racist practices like apartheid, many Black families find themselves attempting to catch up to the social and financial status of their white counterparts without the resources required to close that gap. Newer generations continue to carry the burdens of their ancestors and ultimately find themselves working to rectify past wrongs rather than solely focusing on moving forward.

How does humor function throughout the novel?

Besides the fact that humor comes naturally to Trevor Noah as a comedian, the lighthearted moments throughout the novel work to create a contrast with the more serious themes and reflect the ups and downs of growing up. Noah often satirizes the harsh realities of life under and in the aftermath of apartheid in order to call attention to the gravity of his situation. His use of humor also adds to the conversational tone of the novel, one which makes his world accessible to all readers regardless of their personal background or knowledge. 

What happens to Abel after he shoots Patricia?

At the end of Chapter 18, Noah reveals that, moments after shooting Patricia, Abel tells Isaac that he plans to kill himself. He even goes so far as to visit his relatives to tell them of his plan and say his goodbyes, but they convince him to turn himself into the police instead. Abel waits in jail for a bail hearing, and when he eventually speaks to the judge, he argues that he cannot support his kids if he is imprisoned. This lie allows him to walk free, retaining custody of Andrew and Isaac despite his history of abuse.