The poem, Nothing’s Changed, by Tatmkhulu Afrika, talks about the rampant apartheid system in District Six near Cape Town in South Africa, and explores the racism. The ironic title brings to light how the apartheid has changed nothing but the physical appearance of District Six. Nothing’s Changed expresses poet’s anger toward the racists, especially the whites. It reveals the experience of turning back to South Africa after the system of racial separation, called Apartheid, had been upturned. Under the Apartheid system, the majority of black population was treated like the slaves. Due to this system, they were compelled to study in their separate schools, travel in their separate transports, and reside in only the separate parts of cities and towns. The blacks were even not allowed to vote, meaning their voting rights were also upheld by the whites due to this racial system. Though the number of white people was very small, they still exploited and ruled the poverty of the blacks by force of their brutal police force.
In the poem Nothing’s Changed, Tatamkhulu Afrika, on his return, imagines and hopes for a more just and less racially-divided country, but, to his surprise, no such change is seen anywhere. The situations have become even worse on the way of brutality, exploitation and discrimination has changed. And this poem reveals the very fact, and the poet’s bitter disappointment toward the prevalent racism. The attitude of Nothing’s Changed is revengeful and tragic. It is a protest, and a cry of pain. Rather than the white culture feeling guilt and making some kind of recompense for its years of oppression and murder, the ‘brash’ restaurant still symbolizes confidence, even arrogance, certainly not shame.
There are two analytical interpretations of this poem in this article. To read the second analysis, please scroll to the bottom of the article and click ‘Next’ or page 2.
The poet employs sensual imagery to convey the sense of the surrounding. The opening line is 5 separate monosyllables that we see ‘small, round’, touch ‘hard’, and hear ‘click’. In the second stanza he makes use of repetition and lengthens line to grow his anger, and how it consumes every part of him. The stanza on the ‘whites only inn’ is in the middle of the poem. Nothing’s Changed also contains several full stops, with the last one sounding final, certain, unanswerable: ‘Nothing’s changed.’
Nothing’s Changed Analysis
The poem, Nothing’s Changed, portrays and picturizes the problems rampant in South Africa between the whites and blacks. The very title of the poem shows what the poet wants to convey through this poem. He says, “Nothing has changed ever since he left this place. Even now the discrimination is quite visible to see not only among the whites, but even the things that belong to the whites and the blacks.
Nothing’s Changed shows poet’s anger toward the discriminating and segregating nature of those who even today keep themselves aloof from the colored people (the blacks). This poem also reminds me of the widespread caste system in India, where the lower caste and down-trodden people are discriminated by the upper caste people. Racism and castism are two deeply-rooted sins that have been a stigma on the forehead of humanity for centuries. In the poem, when the poet returns his home land, he finds that nothing has changed, the attitude of whites are even now as it used to be when he was a child. With the perfect use of poetic devices and the restaurants, the poet has been able to picturize the best picture of racism in South Africa.
The very first stanza of Nothing’s Changed tells the irritation and anger of the poet when he says that the irritating stones that click under the feet of poet themselves create the hard irritating sound (an example of onomatopoeia). He says there is untidiness all around, which is increased more by the spreading weeds all around. In this stanza, the poet is shown walking across the wasteland that he knew since his childhood and the destroyed District 6 fills the poet full of anger and irritation. The words like– stones, seeding grasses, cans, weeds are the images that poet use to make his poem lively and realistic. The poem starts with a very friendly and amiable tone. The opening of the poem with a series of monosyllabic words (as discussed above in the para) is very percussive, and helps in building up the imagery in the opening lines in which the poet sets up the wasteland, i.e. District 6. And with the use of first person, the poet takes us into his own world. In the last line of the first stanza, the poet uses another poetic device such as ‘amiable weeds’ while the use of words like ‘clicks’ and ‘crunch’ are the examples of onomatopoeia.
In stanza two, the poet brings a change in the poem’s tone using two-word title ‘District Six’. This stark statement at the very beginning of this stanza familiarizes the readers about what the poet is going to talk about in the poem ahead. This stanza also recognizes the place as ‘District Six’ which is recognizable not by a sign ‘board’ but by instinct ‘my feet know and my hands…’ In fact every part of poet’s body seems to recognize it. The repetition of ‘And’ in the 12, 13, 14 and 15 lines shows the growing anger of the poet. Moreover, the frequent of punctuation helps in establishing the sense of growing anger. Note this anger of the poet that he has expressed through the imagery of body parts is against the establishment of the restaurant that has been constructed on the debris of District 6. The construction of restaurant destroying District 6 also shows the supremacy of the whites over the blacks. This stanza finishes with a sense of great anger ‘and the hot, white, inwards turning anger of my eyes’ which depicts that the poet is full of anger due to rooted hatred of the whites toward the blacks.
In the third stanza, the poet takes his readers to a ‘brash’ restaurant, full of ‘up market, haute cuisine’ with a ‘guard at the gatepost’. This restaurant can be easily recognized as a place for ‘whites only inn’, which means no black is allowed to get in there. This very scene of the restaurants and the warnings written here angers the poet, and he calls it ‘brash’, which is a personification of something almost lurking or hiding in the grass and weeds ‘it squats’. The height of the anger is increased more when the poet finds a guard at the gatepost of the restaurant, which means that the people sitting inside the restaurant need protection from a guard. This really irritates the poet, and he wants to break the restaurant, “Brash with glass.”
No sign says it is:
But we know where we belong.
The fourth stanza is brief but it speaks thousands of words through the two lines. This stanza sheds light over the racism inherent in the South Africa, and when the poet sees the construction of restaurant over the debris of District 6, he says though there is no sign, we still know where our place is in society, or where we belong.
The apartheid signs might have gone now that South Africa is a democracy, but the poet knows that as a man of mixed or colored race he would not be welcome in the restaurant; in other words he knows where he belongs… Not in there but in the working men’s café down the road!
In stanza five, the writer looks through the window, and the key feature of this stanza is color imagery, mostly the white color imagery– all that white ~ the crushed ice, the linen, the rose, the restaurant. The poet has used all these imageries to put emphasis on the ‘whiteness’ of the restaurant against which ‘black’ would stand out and help in reinforcing the notion that black people are not welcome.
However, ‘the single rose’ on the table is not white, which symbolizes the red blood of all human beings. The metaphor of a flower decorating table also symbolizes the blood that was shed during the South Africa’s struggle for freedom.
In the sixth stanza, he describes the contrast between the ‘working man’s café’ down the road and the restaurant on the other side. The poet says that in the man’s café, the blacks themselves have to carry their food with you, the café has plastic tables, and there is no serviettes as people wipe their fingers on their jeans, ‘spit a little on the floor’ and ‘it’s in the bone’. In all, the unpleasant and uncivilized scenario of man’s café totally contrasts with the restaurant, which is ‘posh’ and fully embedded with all sorts of amenities.
In this final stanza, the poet moves away from the scene, revert to being a ‘boy again’ and there is a sense of smallness about him with ‘a small mean O of small, mean mouth’ as if the whole experience has left him feeling inadequate and small. He wants to throw a stone or ‘a bomb’ at the glass; such is his anger at the whole scene, and this is the anger that still exists in the mind of the poet.
The poem, Nothing’s Changed by Tatmkhulu, is an attack on the psyche of the castist people and their society. Certainly this is stigma on the human society if this type of racial system even today exists among. No matter what racism the poet experienced during his childhood, now he wished for an atmosphere where no one will be discriminated on the basis of his color and caste. However, the poet gets extremely disappointed when after many years of his return he comes to the same place where he had spent his childhood, and was thrown out of his house due to the prevalent apartheid system. He says, “Nothing has changed ever since he left this place. Even now the discrimination is quite visible to see not only among the whites, but even the things that belong to the whites and the blacks.
To read the second analysis, please click ‘Next’ or page 2.
Analysis of Nothing's changed by Tatmkhulu Afrika
- Length: 849 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The poem Nothing’s changed is based on an apartheid in district six near cape town in south Africa exploring the portrayal of racism. The ironic title reveals to the reader how the apartheid has changed nothing but the physical appearance of district six.
The poet gives the reader the impression that the speaker in the poem has grown up throughout his childhood in district six and has left and returned after the apartheid has supposedly begun.
The poem is written in enjambment and is said as a narrative, in stanza one the speaker has returned to district six that has evicted all its ethnic cultures to be replaced by a white minority, to find that the place is a shambles and people have no respect for it he talks about the “seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds into trouser cuffs, cans, trodden on” this shows how littered it has become, the fact he mentions it shows the reader it did not use to be like that. Also the mention of the “purple-flowering amiable weeds”, purple being the colour known for dried blood implies to the reader that some sort of massacre went on throughout the apartheid, and amiable meaning sociable and friendly as a mask over what is really going on in the village.
The overall emotion in the poem is revengeful and tragic, however the emotion from the speaker is anger and repulsion towards the white minority and the way they have took over the black’s home, he is aware that he has entered district six without any acknowledgement towards his surrounding, the way he says “District six.” As a short sentence sounds cold but built up with anger, he knows where he is and he doesn’t particularly want to be there.” No board says it: but my feet know,” this gives the impression he has steps on this ground many times before for his own feel to be aware of its surroundings, “and the skin about my bones, and the soft labouring of my lungs, and the hot, white, inward turning anger of my eyes.” The repetition of “and” makes the wording like a list and makes out the speaker has endless bad feelings towards this environment.
Afrika then talks about the new buildings that have emerged since he has been gone to illustrate the diverse condition between the two social cultures within his society.
He talks about the new building “flaring like a flag” as if it is taunting him, “it squats in the grass and weeds,” this gives the reader a horrible impression of the place but also implies the building stand out of its surrounds, it doesn’t belong there.
How to Cite this Page
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The building he is looking at is portrayed as some sort of restaurant with it’s, “crushed ice white glasses, linen falls, the single rose” it is seen as a utopia to the speaker. He knows he is not allowed in there even though he resents it he deeply desires to go in and live like they live. “whites only inn” the “inn” is spelt as if it is a hotel as well as a restaurant which gives the impression that district six is now a tourist sight.
The next stanza straight after the stanza involving the “haute cuisine” talks about the working man’s café the place is made to sound cheep and tacky in comparison to the high class restaurant up the road.
Afrika also emphasizes his anger and feelings towards his position in society by saying “we know were we belong” and were he says “wipe your fingers on your jeans, spit a little on the floor: it’s in the bone” this gives the impression that all the blacks are made out to be judged and impolite in the area.
Also Africa goes back to the childhood of the speaker when things were exactly the same “I back from the glass, boy again, leaving a small mean O of small mean mouth.” he just has a eclipse of the same thing happening in his child hood and exactly the same thing is happening now. Even his breath is thought of as mean and unwanted it’s as if he is saying he has no voice and his opinions will never be heard as they weren’t when he was a child.
This makes his angry, he wants to do something about it, “hands burn” it’s as if he is being tempted to do something and he can’t stop himself, “for a stone, a bomb, to shiver down the glass.” Shiver down the glass creates a sence of depression, he does not just want to smash the glass he wants to destroy this barrier that is preventing him living a happy life of equality and acceptance.
The final line of the poem is a repetition of the title to remind the reader what the poem is about, the fact that nothings changed and it never will, “Nothing’s changed.” Also gives the reader the feel that the speaker has now given up and he has nothing more to say and the situation he is in is an impossible one.