Essay About Tsotsi


Miriam is an eighteen year old with a young baby, just like little David. Like many other young women in South Africa, Miriam has been abandoned by her husband – Simon – and left with a child to care for all on her own. Tsotsi’s mom and the lady who gave the baby to Tsotsi have been put in the same situation and she is our symbol for them. Gumboot also left his pregnant wife. Through a strict plot context we know Miram as the lady who feeds little David for Tsotsi. With a deeper look in we can gather she again is shown as on overall symbolic mother, nurturing and nourishing not only baby David but her own son too. She performs these mother like acts to Tsotsi also and teaches him how to love again. She is like Mother Mary. She shows Tsotsi that we mustn’t live in the past and need to move on in life and never give up.


The baby is introduced relatively early through Tsotsi receiving it in the bluegumtrees by a frightened woman who he intended to rape. As the plot progresses we come to see, the baby is a catalyst for Tsotsi’s self-discovery. The baby represents innocence, kindness, and the positives of human nature just like David, who Tsotsi was prior to becoming a thug. Tsotsi recognized that and names the baby after his past self. The baby helps Tsotsi towards becoming David again through teaching him simple life lessons such as caring, nurturing and responsibility for others. Tsotsi nurtures the baby with milk and cleans the baby which proves this new compassionate outlook. At the end of the book when David Mondondo sacrifices his own safety for that of the baby, he is actually saving himself. By his efforts to save the baby his instincts have changed from violence – like a street thug – to compassion – like a mother, saving his humanity. The ultimate redemption of becoming David again.


Like all black males living in South Africa at the time, Butcher is a victim of Apartheid. These men take all means to survive and we see this expressed in the way Butcher lives his day to day life in the gang. To them he is the killer – he never misses a strike and is the go-to man when the job needs to get done. Violence is the way he has learned to survive because it is the only way he can. He is a direct product of his environment. To Tsotsi, Butcher isn’t much but a person in his gang who is a skillful and ruthless killer.

Die Aap

Die Aap like all the others characters we are introduced to is a symbol of Apartheid in South Africa. Their personal, actions, values and tendencies have been crafted by the oppression they have faced from the government. Die Aap is also a very loyal character, he wants the gang to stay together when Tsotsi is speaking of them to split, they are his brotherhood and he would sacrifice for them. This is shown how even if violent, ruthless and uncivil what the gang may be doing, he will participate in their actions and help their crime because they are all he knows. Die Aap is very strong and has long arms, reflected in his name. He doesn;t mean much to Tsotsi, he is just a gang member. Die Aap doesn’t play a huge role in the understanding of the novel other than when he is the one who Tsotsi officially tells that the gang is over.


Morris a crippled, he lost his legs six years ago in a mineshaft collapse. He has lost his dignity and is ashamed of the way he must get his money in order to survive – begging. He believes he is a half-man. When Tsotsi’s gang goes to the city, Tsotsi decides he will kill Morris; however, he feels sympathy for the cripple because he reminds him of the yellow bitch. Morris is a catalyst for Tsotsi to remember the dog. He is also a symbol for South Africa, due to the fact that he is a crippled man, much like South Africa. Morris helps the reader understand and see the pivotal moment within Tsotsi and the shift that Tsotsi experiences throughout the story. Morris shows Tsotsi the value of the little things in life and shows Tsotsi that he can make choices. Morris does not have any other influential moment within the text other than the interactions that he has with Tsotsi. With his reactions he creates and helps Tsotsi develop the ability to show decency and allows Tsotsi to make choices that affect others, rather than just himself.


Boston is the “brains” of the group. He went to university but didn’t complete it because he was accused of raping a fellow student. This sent him down his path of resorting to crime for survival as he had no other way to make ends meet. He is a very knowledgeable character and always tells stories to the group when they aren’t out stalking prey. He is constantly asking Tsotsi questions – which go against Tsotsi’s last two rules – and these questions being to make Tsotsi hate Boston. In the outset of the novel Tsotsi beats Boston because of these questions and he accuses Tsotsi of having no decency. This influences Tsotsi’s decisions throughout the book. At the end of the novel Tsotsi seeks Boston out and cares for him in order to try and discover answers to similar questions that Boston was asking earlier. Boston acts as a catalyst for Tsotsi’s search for god. He explains to Tsotsi that he must seek out god to get more answers and tells Tsotsi that everyone is “sick from life.” Not only does he help Tsotsi understand what he must do to seek further redemption but the exchange they have also makes Boston realize he must go back home to seek redemption from his mother.


Isaiah and Tsotsi meet at a church near the end of the story and engage in a short yet life changing conversation for Tsotsi. In the bible Isaiah is an 8th century prophet ( inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of god ) and in the book he teaches Tsotsi of god, he tells Tsotsi of what will happen because of sin and that god is inside the church. Although we know this isn’t in fact true, Tsotsi believes that he is and it engages his interest of attending the church even more. Tsotsi has been looking for god and that is why he went to Boston, Isaiah is his door to god. Tsotsi is invited back to the church and if it wasn’t for the baby in the ruins the next day, he would have returned. Isaiah allows Tsotsi to understand the possibilities of Christianity brings.


We know Tsotsi as a street thug in Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid.

As a boy Tsotsi was innocent and content, living as a victim of apartheid. When his mother was taken from him he was left alone to witness his father come home and upon realizing the house was empty, he lashed out on the dog, paralyzing its back legs and killing the litter. This scarred Tsotsi and pushed him to flee home and eventually get taken in by Petah’s gang. This gang changed his identity; he became Tsotsi after several days with the gang participating in crime. He states: “My name is Tsotsi.” This transformation from an innocent boy to a hardened young man has resulted in him living a life of robbery, rape and murder. He no longer has a use for past memories and his conscious no longer exists. He creates three rules: rule of the working moment (always be able to see his knife), never disturb his inward darkness, tolerate questions from no others. These rules are what allow him to survive as Tsotsi and have no need to become David again.

He becomes the leader of a gang who commit crimes in order to survive. As the story progresses his three rules diminish and through interactions with others he changes from Tsotsi back to David. Our first impression of Tsotsi is that he is a violent man who is well respected within his gang. He beats Boston because he attempts to break one of his rules – don’t ask questions – which is the only way he knows how to handle threats.

After fleeing, Tsotsi is given the baby by a woman who he first intended to rape. This baby will act as the catalyst for his journey of self-discovery. He cares for the baby and shortly after hiding it in the ruins he goes out to find a victim. Tsotsi stalks Morris planning to kill and rob him, however; as Tsotsi stalks him he is given time to reflect and begins to build a sympathy for Morris because the baby has changed his value for life, he learned how to care feel compassion. Morris also reminds him of the dog who was powerless in a similar situation. The sympathy he attains is translated to when he and Morris interact and he decides to let him live, as Morris explains he must. Not only has Tsetse’s outlook changed but Morris now values his own life as well which he explains to Tsotsi. Their exchange also leaves Tsotsi with the belief that he must value the little things in life in order to become redeemed.

After this interaction, Tsotsi goes home and finds the baby in poor condition covered in ants – realizing it needs a mothers and care – he observes the line-up for water trying to pick a woman who would suffice. He decides on Miriam and at first she is reluctant to help, he must threaten the life of her own child, showing he hasn’t fully changed as a man. In their subsequent interactions Tsotsi no longer has to intimidate her to receive her help nourishing the baby. In their final interaction – after Tsotsi comes back from meeting Isaiah – she opens up to him, explaining how her husband is dead and she accepts that she must move on. This belief transfers to Tsotsi and resonates within him. From her belief he understands that you can’t let you past determine your future and you must continue on living despite past influences. This is his next step towards redemption, as it allows him not to dwell on the mistakes of his past. This understanding makes it possible for him to realize he can leave his past lifestyle behind.

Before his final interaction with Miriam Tsotsi took Boston to his house and nourished him like a mother, giving him milk and bread. Tsotsi asks Boston similar questions that resulted in Boston getting beaten in the outset of the novel. This is the moment where Tsotsi leaves his rules behind him and his only desire is to seek out answers to the questions he has been asking himself. Boston explains that everyone is sick from life – living in Apartheid – and that in order to further pursue the answers to his questions, he needs to find God. This leads Tsotsi to Isaiah who teaches him more about God and what he can do for you. He explains to Tsotsi what sins are and the consequences for them. He tells Tsotsi that in order to further understand God he must attend church. Tsotsi agrees to this, showing me truly intends to do whatever he can to pursue his goal of redemption.

These events collectively influence Tsotsi to become David again, a human with a soul. No longer is a murderous Tsotsi but a compassionate and loving young man. These new values are what drive him to attempt to save the baby at the end. His instinct of killing has evidently shifted to an instinct of saving lives without hesitation. When their bodies are discovered he has a smile on his face showing that he has no regrets and is pleased with who he has become. This is the ultimate sacrifice in life and the final step for Tsotsi to attain full redemption from past sins, becoming David – a new, admirable man.

Minor Characters

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The film Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, portrays how an individual’s childhood and experiences effect the individual’s psychological development in his struggle for redemption. The narrative centers on Tsotsi, whose name when translated, literally means “thug”- a nickname he has accumulated through his atrocity as gang leader. The opening scene of the film establishes a strong sense of direction for the story – a glimpse of a person rolling dice is shown, drawing attention to the archetype of the dice representing chance and having no control over what will happen. This reveals the context that Tsotsi’s life is more distinctly influenced by outside forces, rather than his own free will. Following this scene, Tsotsi is introduced on screen wearing a leather jacket – the same one he is seen wearing for the entirety of the film with the exception of the ending, confirming that what viewers see during that time is only an exterior, securely hiding his true identity that was formed by his childhood and experiences.

Gaining awareness about the major outside forces that influence the development of Tsotsi’s character in the past and the present are essential in understanding the reason behind his seemingly cold-hearted exterior. Tsotsi’s character is greatly developed by his interactions with his friends and family. His childhood without his parents has a significant effect on him, allowing him to be taught neither proper morals, nor how to behave with others. After their brutal murder of a man, Boston preaches Tsotsi, including him saying, “Jesus, Tsotsi. A dog? What about a dog” (Hood, 2005). The didactic tirade triggers a stream of muffled emotions in Tsotsi, who beats up Boston. After this incident, Tsotsi runs from his friends, and more importantly, himself. The frenzied expression revealed in the close up shot of his face not only expresses his id that caused the incident, but also clearly expresses his disappointment in himself acting the same way towards Boston, as his dad had to their dog when Tsotsi was younger. “Get out I said! Out damn it! Out you fucking dog” (Hood, 2005).

This metaphorical representation of Boston as a dog reveals Tsotsi’s lack morality throughout his childhood. Hood uses meaningful pathetic fallacy to portray the view that viewers should have on Tsotsi. The long shot emphasizes his insignificant effect over the controlling outside forces, and lighting illuminates the sky, while Tsotsi is still left in darkness; symbolizing his dark exterior. In addition to being strong influences that have caused Tsotsi to become who he is, his friends also aid him in his path to atonement. Tsotsi looks for redemption against such poverty-induced inhumanity in a place that seems to provide no possibility of doing so. However, such substitute, namely “decency” makes an appearance in an instructive manner, digging through to Tsotsi’s superego, as Sigmund Freud would suggest. Boston or “Teacher Boy,” who, true to his nickname, is the only gang member still possessing conscience, castigates Tsotsi for his wrongdoings, “Decency Tsotsi – Decency – Do you know the word” (Hood, 2005).

Viewers see glimpses of decency as described by Boston – making a living in a way that makes you respected – in Tsotsi as the film progresses, along with his character. This is seen when Tsotsi pays a final visit to Boston and leaves his gun with him – a symbolism of him finally revealing his true identity with no armor. Additionally, Tsotsi shoots Butcher, a character with whom he had many similarities with at the start of the narrative, revealing that he no longer shares those similarities with him. Therefore, Hoods use of outside forces further develops Tsotsi’s character. Furthermore, Tsotsi steals a baby in his attempt to steal a car from Pumla. At this point, the critical question stands: Can a small baby redeem a cold-hearted thug? Clearly, the baby plays a major role in Tsotsi’s development as a dynamic character in his path to redemption.

Tsotsi becomes occupied with caring for the baby as his pathway out of his odious life. To implement a psychological association to Tsotsi’s repressed humanity, Hood uses sentimental flashbacks. Tsotsi’s involvement with gangs is explained by Tsotsi’s harsh father who restricts him from seeing his ill mother. “You…stay away from your mother” (Hood, 2005). The baby serves as a representation of what Tsotsi has lost; revealed when he visits the baby’s room, and realizes what he has stripped from the baby. As the film progresses, Tsotsi develops a strong admiration towards Miriam, a female figure that he associates with his own mother, and therefore tells Miriam that the baby’s name is ‘David,’ the name he himself was given by his own mother. This is also revealed when Boston says, “Everyone has a name.

A real name from him mother” (Hood, 2005). Miriam reveals the Oedipal Complex at work in the film as Tsotsi revives memories of his mother’s affections. The ‘decency,’ that Boston continuously mentions, is finally revealed to be seen in Tsotsi when he finally hands the baby over to its parents. However, his reluctance to let the baby go symbolizes his fear in forgetting his past experiences and starting over, clearly emphasized by the depressing music, meant to tug at the viewer’s heart-strings, in contrast to the upbeat music played throughout the rest of the film. Here at the end of the film, Tsotsi’s surrendering to the police confirms that he is no longer seen as a ruthless killer, but as a man with decency. In doing so, Hood offers readers an association with Tsotsi, along with a clear insight of his struggle to redeem himself in a cruel world with little guidance from his childhood and past experiences.

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