Education, or lack of it, dictates the kinds of lives that characters in Kaffir Boy lead. Armed with education, Mark feels himself equal to the whites he meets, whereas his father, who leans on traditional values, struggles with hopelessness and despair in a world that batters him around however it wishes.
Food, or the lack of it, drives some of the characters in Kaffir Boy to desperation and despair. As a child, Mark experiences times of alternating listlessness and anger, due to hunger. Mark is not the only one who suffers, his younger siblings have serious malnutrition-related illnesses that turn them into shrill and angry and bitter children. Though Mark tends to be the kind of kid who looks out for his family, his hunger sometimes makes him selfish, and unwilling to share the little bit of food they find with his little sister.