The Test by Njabulo Ndebele
In The Test by Njabulo Ndebele we have the theme of isolation, independence, connection, insecurity, confusion, tension, control and identity. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Ndebele may be exploring the theme of isolation. Thoba doesn’t follow the lead of the other boys when he is playing football. He does not chase the ball like them. This may be symbolically important as it suggests that Thoba is isolated from the other boys. He may be playing football with them but he is not really participating. It is also noticeable that when Thoba is standing on the veranda of Simangele’s home he wishes that he could fit in with the other boys. If anything Thoba may long to connect with the other boys rather than feeling as though he is on the outside or isolated from the boys. Thoba’s desire to feel connected to the other boys is so strong that on occasions he refuses to wear his shoes despite his mother’s advice. He longs to be like the other boys which may suggest that Thoba is somewhat insecure about who he is. Thoba also appears to be confused when it comes to his parents. He doesn’t understand that both his mother and father have his best intentions at heart. Rather Thoba wishes that he could have the same independence from his parents that his friends appear to have from their parents. It is as though Thoba considers that the family values his friends hold and have are more important and desirable than the family values he has with his own parents.
Ndebele also appears to be exploring the theme of tension. On four separate occasions there is a sense that both Simangele and Vusi are in conflict with each other and neither boy seems willing to back down. This may be important as it suggests that both boys wish to be in control or to be seen as a leader. Thoba too remains tense when he is standing at Simangele’s veranda. He fears that what he might say will lead to a fight between Simangele and Vusi. Though the reader is aware that all Thoba is really attempting to do is to connect with the other boys. To no longer feel as though he is isolated from them. It may also be important that Ndebele manages to turn the spotlight onto Thoba by way of one comment that Thoba makes and Mpiyakhe’s reaction to the comment. By doing so Ndebele manages to heighten the tension even further and rather than being a witness to a fight between Simangele and Vusi Thoba may become a participant in one.
There is also a noticeable shift in the dynamic of the boy’s relationship after Vusi takes off his shirt and starts to run in the street. If anything Thoba feels empowered and he no longer has the same fear that he had previously shown around the boys. He knows that Simangele has to follow Vusi, to accept his challenge, if he is to be considered as the leader of the group. The spotlight no longer shines on Thoba but is fixed upon Simangele. It is also interesting that Thoba decides to runs out into the street without his shirt on. It is as though he has decided that there is a pecking order within the group and he has the opportunity to pass Mpiyakhe by. To be seen as someone who is braver than Mpiyakhe. However it is noticeable that Thoba is also somewhat afraid despite trying to reassure himself that everything will be okay.
The end of the story is also interesting. By having Thoba run at first and then walk Ndebele manages to heighten the sense of insecurity that Thoba feels. An insecurity that develops further when Thoba sees the women getting off the bus. He feels embarrassed by the fact that he is shirtless and shoeless. So embarrassed that he begins to cry. However rather than being defeated Thoba manages to harness something from inside himself and begins to run again. Which may be important as for the first time in the story Thoba is no longer insecure about who he is. So secure is Thoba with his new found identity that he refuses to set the fire when he gets home. He knows there will be consequences however Thoba feels comfortable enough to disregard any action his mother may take against him. The fear that Thoba had felt earlier in the story is also gone. He is not afraid of any of the other boys nor is he afraid of his mother. It is as though Thoba has come of age. The struggle he has endured through the streets of the township has helped Thoba grow up. The fact that Thoba also discards his shorts prior to getting into bed may also be significant as symbolically Ndebele may be suggesting that Thoba is a new man. How comfortable Thoba actually becomes with his new found identity is noticeable by the fact that he wishes he could keep turning around in bed. The pain that Thoba had felt earlier is no longer his enemy. Through the pain Thoba has found a new independence.