Born a Crime

by

Trevor Noah

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The Secondhand Volkswagen Symbol Analysis

The Secondhand Volkswagen Symbol Icon

When Trevor and Patricia move to the suburban colored neighborhood of Eden Park, they get a rundown, secondhand Volkswagen Beetle that often fails to start (and forces them to take minibuses to church); nonetheless, the car symbolizes Trevor and Patricia’s growing freedom in the face of poverty, as it allows them to go wherever they want, a luxury that most black South African families do not have and that Trevor and Patricia fully enjoy. They go on picnics, spend time in nature, and visit white neighborhoods they would never otherwise see. The car is proof that Trevor and Patricia are beginning to overcome the poverty that used to constrain both of them, even if their efforts to maintain the Volkswagen show that they never fully escape poverty’s grasp. It represents both their means of escaping the townships and proof that they have escaped, unlike the rest of their family—even though Frances Noah’s house, like every other house in Soweto, has a driveway that ends up sitting empty (and Trevor sees as a sign of its people’s aspirations to economic advancement). However, the car is also how Patricia meets Abel: he fixes it up when it breaks and then, in an effort to deny Patricia the freedom to go to church, he refuses to fix it during their marriage, forcing her to rely on other forms of transportation just as he drags her back into the cycle of poverty and violence that she spent the first half of her life striving to escape.

The Secondhand Volkswagen Quotes in Born a Crime

The Born a Crime quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Secondhand Volkswagen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Born a Crime published in 2016.
Chapter 3 Quotes

There is something magical about Soweto. Yes, it was a prison designed by our oppressors, but it also gave us a sense of self-determination and control. Soweto was ours. It had an aspirational quality that you don't find elsewhere. In America the dream is to make it out of the ghetto. In Soweto, because there was no leaving the ghetto, the dream was to transform the ghetto.

For the million people who lived in Soweto, there were no stores, no bars, no restaurants. There were no paved roads, minimal electricity, inadequate sewerage. But when you put one million people together in one place, they find a way to make a life for themselves. A black-market economy rose up, with every type of business being run out of someone's house: auto mechanics, day cafe, guys selling refurbished tires.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker), Trevor’s Grandmother / Frances Noah
Related Symbols: The Secondhand Volkswagen
Page Number: 40-41
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Secondhand Volkswagen Symbol Timeline in Born a Crime

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Secondhand Volkswagen appears in Born a Crime. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...at the end of the day). This particular Sunday, as often happened, the family’s secondhand Volkswagen Beetle won’t start. Noah’s mother decides they will take minibuses instead and blames the devil... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...uncomfortable having his own bedroom and sleeps in his mother’s bed. They also get a car, the secondhand Volkswagen that often fails to start up (forcing them to hitchhike). But this... (full context)
Chapter 6
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
...tells him off. Crying, Trevor drops the apple and catches up to Patricia in the car. Eventually, when Trevor proves “quicker in an argument,” his mother starts writing him letters and... (full context)
Chapter 11
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...preface Trevor explains that his mother is an expert at conserving gas: she turns the car off at every stoplight, coasts her way through every downhill stretch, and even has Trevor... (full context)
Chapter 18
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
...knew of her being with his father and Abel. They meet Abel when bringing their Volkswagen to the repair shop. “Handsome, but [not] good-looking,” Abel is strong and charming, with a... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
...He forces the dogs to start living in the yard and refuses to fix Patricia’s car, so that he becomes the family’s only means of transportation and so that Patricia cannot... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...gun misfires. As she tries to drive away, however, he shoots her from behind the car. Andrew jumps in the car and drives to the hospital. (full context)