Elements of Transcendentalism in Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime"

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1680 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Feb 11, 2023

Words: 1680|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Feb 11, 2023

No one expects to be thrown out of a moving bus by their own mother, but sometimes, the society and conditions around people force them to take cross lines and adopt certain unorthodox methods. The ideals of transcendentalism seek to break these chains that bind our minds and thoughts. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and Walt Whitman are three prominent authors and poets who devoted their lives to the development of these transcendentalist beliefs. The book "Born a Crime" is the key topic fot the essay. Here it is analysed how Trevor Noah utilizes the transcendentalist ideologies of non-conformity, self-reliance, and getting the most out of life in order to demonstrate the need for rebellion in order to achieve social justice.

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Non-conformity, a major ideology of transcendentalism, is weaved throughout Trevor Noah’s life experiences in Born a Crime. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a transcendentalist author who strongly believed in the need for rebellion against the constraints of society. In one of his more famous pieces, Self Reliance, he states that society is like “a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity”. This excerpt demonstrates how people give up their individuality and stop thinking freely once they become part of society. Society encourages people to be alike and keep a one-track mind, but transcendentalism believes that each person should form their own opinions instead of conforming to what the rest of society believes. Only through non-conformity can one truly be free and independent. When the mind is free from the barriers of society, change is possible and through change social justice is possible. Born A Crime demonstrates how social justice is attainable through nonconformity in a world where society mandates the systematic oppression of Africans. The author, Trevor Noah, was a product of a white man and black woman at a time where such an act was illegal and apartheid, a government system, designed to subdue Africans in South Africa. None of these factors stopped Trevor Noah’s mother, Patrica Noah, and she “started her little project, [Trevor Noah], at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end . . . she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist . . . we only moved forward and we moved fast, and by the time the law and everyone else came around we were already miles down the road”. Despite the conditions in South Africa, Noah’s mother did not conform to societal pressures and decided to have a colored child in a world that deemed this a criminal act. Apartheid had been in place for generations and there was no indication that it would end anytime soon. When it came to Noah’s upbringing, his mother did not she did not raise him in the way that black or colored kids were expected to be raised. People questioned her methods and “thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelugnu - the things of the white people”. Patrica Noah made sure that the opportunities only white children received were also available to Noah. From books to movies, Noah received the exposure that shaped him into the man is today. He learned of the world beyond the ghetto and what black people were forced to be by society. It was only through this decision to rebel against the expectation of what a non-white child deserved that Trevor Noah received the childhood, education, and opportunity every child deserves regardless of the color of their skin. Only through this rebellion was social justice achieved. If Noah’s mother had chosen to conform, Trevor Noah’s success and opportunity would have been robbed by society. Patrica Noah’s rebellion through the transcendentalist ideal of non-conformity helped achieve social justice for her child.

Another major belief of transcendentalism that is evident in Born a Crime is the idea of self-reliance. Walt Whitman, an influential transcendentalist author, describes this pillar of transcendentalism in Song of Myself, 46. Whitman describes life as a journey that “Not I, not any one else can travel . . . for you, You must travel it for yourself. It is not far, it is within reach, Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know, Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land”. Whitman describes the path of life which should be walked alone no matter who you are. Through self-reliance, the idea that each and every person should only depend on themselves and follow their own instincts, one can accomplish their purpose in life and achieve their goals. Only by depending on one’s own self, can they truly complete the journey that lies ahead of them. If one depends on others or chooses to follow someone else’s footsteps, their journey no longer carries that weight, meaning, and success that self-reliance can bring. Comparably, Trevor Noah worked his way to success by finding his own path in life, not by following someone’s guide to getting out of the ghetto. He paved his way out by relying on his proficient technological and business skills. Noah uses crime as his tool to rebel against his situation because “crime does the one thing the government doesn’t: crime cares. [...] My life of crime started out small, selling pirated CDs on the corner [..] but by hood standards that didn’t even qualify as illegal. At the time it never occurred to any of us that we were doing anything wrong”. In a world where opportunity is only available to rich, the poor, such as Trevor Noah, are left jobless and aimless in life after their limited schooling. They fall back into the self-destructive cycle of the ghettos and very few are able to leave. Trevor Noah succeeded in becoming the person he is today only by relying on his skills to write, mix, and sell pirated music. By relying on himself, Noah was finally able to receive the justice of being able to leave the ghettos and have the opportunity any man or woman deserves in life. In order to receive that justice, Noah was compelled to rebel against the laws set by society and finally take the success that belonged to him. Trevor Noah’s rebellion through self-reliance aided him in achieving social justice for himself.

Last but not least, getting the most out of life is the final transcendentalist ideal that is perceptible in Born a Crime. Henry David Thoreau was an esteemed essayist on transcendentalist and truly believed in living life to the fullest. He further developed this pillar of transcendentalism in future works. Thoreau decided to go reside in the wilderness and wrote a piece about his escapades titled Walden. He believed that he could not live life to the fullest in a city or suburb and “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”. As per Thoreau, life is made being too easy for people living in a society. It no longer is a life worth living if modern conveniences do everything for oneself. Instead, people should do and enjoy the little things in life too; pick up the ax and cut down a tree for firewood or pump the water from the well. The essence of life is extirpated if one is robbed of these experiences and that is no life worth living. Noah uses this ideal of transcendentalism and proves rebellion is necessary for social justice. As per Noah, life and people will always thrash you but “If you think too much about the ass-kicking you mom gave you, or the ass-kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules . . . You’ll have a few bruises and they’ll remind you of what happened and that’s okay'. Noah echos the same idea as Thoreau: never stop getting the most out of life. No matter how many times one is knocked to the ground, do not let it stop you from getting back on your feet and following your instincts. This advice is a result of Noah’s own experiences as a teenage boy. He knows the pain and regret that comes with failing to follow his heart. In ninth grade, Noah has a crush on a girl named Zaheera and plans to be her friend until he finally works himself in a position to ask her out. Noah waited too long and he found out that she liked him only after Zaheera moves away. Despite being within arm’s length of his goal, Noah failed to achieve what he wanted because did not take life by the throat. This sets Noah on a path that makes sure he never repeats the same mistake again. From following his talents as a comedian or hustling whatever he could to extinguish his hunger, Noah decided to make his life the best it could be despite the conditions in South Africa. Non-conformity and self-reliance are great tools for social justice but a drive is very much needed to start the rebellion. A drive that fuels every thought, action, and reaction. Getting the most out of life is that guide that fueled Noah to rebel. Only through this rebellion, Noah was able to achieve the social justice he deserved; without it, he is just another kid that got the brunt of life.

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In conclusion, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah utilizes the transcendentalist ideologies of non-conformity, self-reliance, and getting the most out of life in order to demonstrate the need for rebellion in order to achieve social justice. In his memoir 'Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,' Trevor Noah demonstrates some elements of transcendentalism through his personal experiences and how he has been shaped by them.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Elements of Transcendentalism in Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Elements of Transcendentalism in Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”.” GradesFixer, 11 Feb. 2023,
Elements of Transcendentalism in Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
Elements of Transcendentalism in Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 11 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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