Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
All In A Name
Bheki, Florence's eldest son, is a complex and interesting young fellow. So much of what makes Bheki such an intriguing character comes from what we learn about what Bheki used to be like. When we encounter Bheki for the first time, he's with his mom and sisters. He's going to crash with them at Mrs. Curren's house for a while since the schools have been closed and it's not safe at home in Gugulethu anymore. Mrs. Curren remarks that when she saw him last, his name was Digby. What's really thought-provoking about this change is that Bheki now seems to embody a totally different identity than he used to have. Still, we'll have to take Mrs. Curren's word for it; we never knew that old version of Bheki (or, rather, Digby).
The Bheki we know seems to have grown up too fast. He doesn't demonstrate any respect for authority. He does exactly what he wants at Mrs. Curren's house, including having his friend John over and sleeping in her garage without asking her permission – and he doesn't even live there. He's quick to fight and really gives Vercueil a beating; he even whips Vercueil with his belt. What's especially disturbing about it is that the beating seems to come out of nowhere. Bheki's attitude towards adults is reinforced after the police force him and John into a bike accident. When they talk about it later, Bheki treats Mrs. Curren like she doesn't know anything at all and makes himself an authority on the way the "system" works.
Bheki seems to have a lot to say to Mrs. Curren about the role that the authorities play in society, but unfortunately he teaches her the biggest lesson about Apartheid without doing anything at all. It's when Mrs. Curren goes to Gugulethu and sees Bheki's dead body laid out with four others in the rain that she realizes the full force of everything that's going on around her. The horrors of how blacks are treated once seemed so far removed from her, but when Bheki dies, they don't just become immediate, they become personal, too.Timeline