A Matter of Taste: Alex La Guma’s Short Story Analysis

7 July 2016

Alex La Guma’s short story “A Matter of Taste” talks about the post-apartheid social relationships and conflicts between the mixed races, also known as the coloureds and the whites. Through the observation of John, the narrator, the American Dream is interpreted differently by Whitey and Chinaboy; in other words, by the wealthy and respectable whites and the poor non-whites.

Throughout the short story, various examples of characterization and contrasting imagery suggest that even if Chinaboy and Whitey are both victims of apartheid, the racial discrimination is still going to stay; approaching the American Dream doesn’t seem as easy to thoughtful Chinaboy than it may be for the naive Whitey. Despite the differences in their social relationships, Chinaboy ultimately comes to a realization that he once had similar dreams as Whitey does now, which is to live the American Dream.

A Matter of Taste: Alex La Guma’s Short Story Analysis Essay Example

It may have been harder for Chinaboy but since Whitey’s race is more accepted and respected in the world, it may not be as tough for him to pursue the American Dream, so making him aware of the hardship he may have to face, Chinaboy decides to help Whitey. In this piece of literature, the author portrays different types of characters. Whitey, who can be categorized as a flat character, has a very optimistic yet uncritical thinking of the American Dream. He simply just wishes to “Maybe get a job on a ship an’ make the States” (253).

Whereas, railway worker Chinaboy, who can be classified as a dynamic character has an ironic interpretation of the same lifestyle. While sitting in a dirty forest and having coffee, he reminds himself of an image of fancy food from an American book and then shares his experience of the time when he served as a waiter “In one of that big caffies. ” (254), explaining the hardship he had to go through. Though his whimsical and thoughtful opinions made it seem as if the American Dream to him was merely a representation of reality, it was also seen that at the end of the story there occurred a sudden change in his characteristics.

While being nostalgic and talking about his experiences in the past, Chinaboy hinted it to Whitey that running after the American Dream is not as easy as he is taking it as. John, the narrator and Chinaboy, who are railway workers, are satisfied with coffee on “scoured condensed milk tins” (253) just to relieve their hunger find “baked bread with cawfee” (253) to be a piece of luxury. On the other hand, Whitey corrects them saying that “Hot dogs go with coffee”. This simple conversation and use of imagery of food shows how there is a huge gap between reality and fantasy.

Later in the story, in between conversations about food, Chinaboy suddenly gets angry and says out loud that “it’s a matter of money” (254) rather than a matter of taste, making an attempt to let Whitey know that life in the America is not just luxury, as the more experienced one. Throughout the story, Chinaboy and Whitey continue on comparing their own lifestyles with the ones of the Americans. Whitey is extremely hopeful of achieving the American Dream. Chinaboy, on the other hand, makes Whitey look frivolous when he brings to mind the experience he and John had at the time when they were struggling to live the desired life.

But it did not change Whitey’s mind, he still remained stubborn and looked beyond the hard work he will have to put on. He assumes that he won’t have to struggle the way John and Chinaboy did because of the racial discrimination; Chinaboy also thinks the same to some extend but he does not directly say it, rather shows it by making the effort to help Whitey to hop on the train to Cape Town. “The silhouetted tops of the wattle and portjackson looked like massed dragons” (254), such description of the nature by the narrator reflects the fear and intimidation imposed on Chinaboy and John by the apartheid state.

The segregation of the coloured from the whites has made a huge impact on their lifestyles, social relationships and desires. Chinaboy and John are used to the way their lives are, they have worked hard all their lives in order to achieve a little and they expect to continue on doing that because they do not expect any more for being non-whites. Unlike Whitey, they do not have the option to start off their lives brand new and fresh somewhere else, because they will still be treated the same wherever they go.

Whitey assumes the same, that’s why every time Chinaboy mentions how tough life in Cape Town was for him and the amount of pain they went through, it does not change Whitey’s mind, he still believes that if he manages to escape to the Americas, his life is going to be about fancy food, money and luxury. After reminiscing of the old times over multiple tins of coffee and cigarettes at the camp, Chinaboy comes back to reality and tells Whitey, “There’s a bend where it’s the best place to jump a train. We’ll show you. ” (254) and helps him to jump on the train. The narrator describes the headlamp of the train as “a big yellow hole in the dark.

” (255) which symbolizes hope. Chinaboy is very much aware of the racial discrimination that is going on and that’s what makes him hopeful for Whitey, he understands that even though they are all victims of the apartheid, the only person out of the three of them who has some luck towards the American Dream with minimal effort is Whitey, mostly because he is white. La Guma’s piece of writing “A Matter of Taste” is a brilliant piece of literature that says a lot about the way the apartheid has affected the people in South Africa. Using only three characters throughout the story, he has portrayed how racially divided the world was.

Struggling coloured workers Chinaboy and John who worked their entire lives trying to earn a little to satisfy themselves come in contact with a naive and optimistic white boy named Whitey who wish to pursue the American Dream. Offering Whitey a tin of coffee, the other two tell him how struggling life would be in the Americas. But at the end of the day, Whitey is white and that’s all that matters. Even though they are all victims of the same political segregation, chances of Whitey achieving the American Dream is more than that of Chinaboy and John; being hopeful for Whitey, they help him board his ride towards his dreams.

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