Out of Darkness by Alex la Guma
In Out of Darkness by Alex la Guma we have the theme of sympathy, alienation, happiness, letting go, loneliness and acceptance. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed male the reader realises after reading the story that la Guma may be exploring the theme of sympathy. Through listening to Old Cockroach’s’ story the reader manages to feel sorry for him. Though he is guilty of murder there still nonetheless is an element of sympathy for him. Should Cora have stayed by his side things may have been very different for Old Cockroach. Though due to the times that were Cora preferred to pass herself off as a white person. Alienating Old Cockroach and spurning his love. The result being that Old Cockroach ended up killing his friend Joey when Joey admonished Old Cockroach for still holding a torch for Cora. It is also interesting that Old Cockroach is at his happiest when he is talking about Cora though it is noticeable that by calling out her name several times during the story. He is unable to let go of Cora. Despite the fact that she treated Old Cockroach inappropriately based solely on his skin colour and her belief that white people were better than black people.
It may also be a case that la Guma is suggesting that just like Old Cockroach. Everybody has a story to tell. One that might not necessarily match the position a person finds themselves in. If anything Old Cockroach is lonely having lived his life loving a woman who does not love him. It is as though he exhausted his heart and now that he is in prison he feels comfortable telling the narrator his story. Prison life isn’t easy for Old Cockroach either. With him being judged as being mad by his fellow cell mates. This could be important as la Guma may be suggesting that life in prison can take its toll on an individual. Regardless of how tough they might think they are. There is also an element of sadness when it comes to Old Cockroach’s’ story and the reader is left wondering how successful his life might have been should Cora have given him her heart. Rather than alienating Old Cockroach. It is difficult for the reader not to imagine that Old Cockroach would have been happy. Married to the woman he loved and doing a job that he loved too.
Though only briefly mentioned the other cell mates may also be important as they through their actions highlight to the reader just how confined they really are. They have little or no space and are not necessarily sympathetic to Old Cockroach. The humanity that the narrator shows Old Cockroach, by talking the time to listen to him, may also be significant. As la Guma may be suggesting that there is at least some decency in prison. That a man (or woman) can be locked up in prison but still show the capacity to be humane to another human being. That an individual can still show some interest in a person despite how difficult life might be for the individual. Which helps the reader to be also sympathetic towards the narrator for the kindness that he shows to Old Cockroach. There is also very little hope for Old Cockroach. Though he only has three years left to serve. Mentally he has been exhausted by the experience of prison and the reader suspects that he may not be able to adjust to the outside world when it comes to his release from prison. There is also a sense that Old Cockroach may not survive the remaining three years of his sentence due to the fragility of his mental health.
The fact that Cora wants to pass herself off as white also suggests that she may have an inferiority complex when it comes to the issue of skin colour. She knows that she will be accepted by white people and as such feels more comfortable in their company. It is as though Cora longs to live her life on a different track. One in whereby she is not limited by her skin colour and she is welcomed with open arms by white people. Something that Old Cockroach finds difficult to understand. How an individual like Cora can try and fool people and pretend she is something that she is not. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Old Cockroach lives his life honestly. Even if he has been convicted of murder. If anything it is surprising that Old Cockroach does not feel betrayed by Cora as some critics might suggest that he should. Though on the other hand Cora should be allowed to make up her own mind and to live her life as she sees fit. Regardless of how Old Cockroach may feel.