Summary: Plot of the Poem "City Johannesburg"

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The poem City Johannesburg is about a man who spent his life working in the city of Johannesburg during the apartheid era.In this poem the persona speaks of the difficulties and restrictions created for black people by the law,which required them to carry identification(pass) everywhere and at all times.The fact that then persona used too much of personification shows that the city exerts control over individuals and their lives in totality.The city is a cruel and heartless environment for it kept the speaker in a point of starvation and desperation,thus is said to be inhospitable.

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The metaphors in the poem are used to give us the image of suffering,oppression and desperation experienced by the migrant worker during apartheid.As for Johannesburg being well known of the wealth attributed by the gold mines surrounding it as described in the poem.The city is not as rosy and glamorous as it was always said to be.Other metaphors are presented in the poem that further highlight black people’s physical and psychological conditions of being forcedly moved from their families and loved ones to go and work in the cities as slaves for unsatisfying wages and salaries and Johannesburg was one of the cities they we driven to hence it had a lot of gold mines.

Johannesburg is in the poem described as an artificial city,which has lost its natural/original look.The speaker tells us about his everyday trips he travels to and from work on the “black and white robotted roads” and sees “neon flowers flaunt from your electrical wind” and “cement trees”. In (line 24-27) it is a metaphor for street light poles alongside the tarred road meanwhile in stanza 27 “on your cement trees” expresses metaphor as the persona is referring to the high buildings in the city.He further uses the natural things as an example to give us a clear picture of this place that lacks natural features and how living in that particular place can deeply change one’s life to the worst.

The image in (line 26-27) uncovers the fake excellence of the city at night,nature has been put by neon flowers and cement trees,the metaphor was here used to personify the cityscape using the natural look of it.Wind was used metaphorically because wind is a natural phenomenon .The imagery is striking and unusual allowing the speaker to see the attraction of the city as well as the pain it caused him.“This way I salute you” the starting line personifies Johannesburg,addressing the city as “you”.We are also informed that the speaker “salutes” the city.Mostly the word salutes shows power and authority of a certain person.This expresses the persona’s respect towards Johannesburg City” however we are then able to see that there is irony used for this “salute”.The personification “salute” and ‘you” is mostly used all throughout.In line 11 the speaker as the city a rhetorical question “don’t you know” or says that each morning ‘I come to you” in line 23,as though there’s a relationship between the two.

Another personification is seen in the fact that the city inhale and breathes out a “thick iron breath” in line 20.This shows that the city conveys a necessary human trademark to Johannesburg,while expressing the idea of the pollution caused by the industries.The absence of genuine humankind is additionally passed on in the idea that the city inhales and exhales the African labours.Two times in one day very early they get packed in the city to work,by the relentless and irresistible inward breath of the “iron breath”,and each night they are “breathed out” back to the townships.

The personification of the city is further enhanced by some of the metaphors and similes in the poem,therefore unique types of symbolism regularly cooperate.For instance,the city “flaunt” it’s “neon flowers” ,this is a recommendation of the type of mock and display bringing out the thoughts of the city as an enchantress who bolts the speaker with excellence.In line 33 of the poem the city needs a thing from the speaker .It grows and also changes the picture of the city as enchantress and flirts.The city is uncovered as a parasite who needs something from the persona,his brain,flesh and blood,that is his humankind and life.We know that although the city is presented as a human,personification is used to uncover the city as hardhearted,brutal and unfair.

The speaker’s voice as a role extends a specific tone on the poem.The voice may be furious,harsh or upbeat.The tone gives us the information on how the speaker is feeling.It portrays the manner of speaking in “City Johannesburg”.The tone tells us about the speakers sentiments and frames of mind.The tone of the poem is generally recommended by the decision of the distinct and the symbolism, just as the issues,emotions and circumstances the speaker paints.In the beginning of the poem the tone changes and creates in complex ways (line 1-5).

The gathering of such words together uncovers the speaker’s mentality and emotions about the city as an unfeeling an relentless space that keeps him in a point of hunger and distress.In the line that follows,a significant of misery and weariness is evoked.Unexpectedly the speaker might call this intimation and unforgiving city “my love” in (line 14),the city resembles a hardhearted and wanton lover.On the other hand, the speaker may basically be stating that “affection” is something he is compelled to abandon each morning.In line 6-10 a few words and pictures suggests appetite and starvation “starved snake”.The tone is amusing,deriding just as frightful and surrendered, the possibility of an aware “salute” is unexpectedly upset as an edgy looking for a pass.This is a sonnet, which takes on the appearance of a “salute’ to the power and magnificent at a huge city. The speaker expresses his anger feeling about apartheid and how bad it really was.It was indeed the worst experience for black people.

The persona was giving us the picture of how Johannesburg was looking during the apartheid era.He again explained how humiliated they felt, how they suffered and how they were ill-treated in the past because of the color of their skin and the apartheid laws which has never favoured them.


  4. Serote, W.M. (1972).City Johannesburg.
  5. Simpson, J.2017.Oxfort English Dictionary.3rd ed.Oxford:University press.

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