Noughts and Crosses

Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses is the first in a harrowing series of novels about an alternative present, where people of African descent, rather than European, are the dominant race in Britain and around the world. White people (known as “Noughts”) were long the slaves of black people (known as “Crosses”). They are now free but still heavily segregated and discriminated against. Enter the novel’s two heroes: Sephy, a Cross, and Callum, a Nought. They are best friends, but the world seems determined to keep them apart. By reversing the racism seen in the real world, Blackman is able to hold up a mirror to the unfairness and absurdity of judging people by the colour of their skin.

Racism

Discrimination against one race is the novel’s most obvious theme; it affects everything else that happens. Many of the hardships that Callum faces are based on real events in our own society. For example, he is abused when he becomes one of the first white students allowed into an all-black school; he only learns about black historical figures in class; and he is constantly put down by Crosses.

Terrorism

The “Liberation Militia” is a secretive group of noughts who fight for equality by planting bombs and murdering Crosses. Their terror tactics are reminiscent of the IRA in the latter half of the 20th century. As Callum becomes more disillusioned by the way he and his family are treated, he begins to sympathise with them. The novel gives a stark look at how ordinary people can become radicalised.

Justice

Callum and Sephy both want justice for noughts; they want a world where everyone is equal, and they can be together. But when members of Callum’s own family get caught up in the process of the law, it is clear that the legal system is rigged against them. And, as in their world Britain still has the death penalty, the consequences could be fatal. How does this compare to our present justice system?

Heroes

“What if you can’t do both?” Callum’s sister Lynny asks him. “Which one means more to you? Being someone or making a difference?” Throughout the novel, Sephy and Callum question how far one person can change the world — especially when it seems as though all of society is working against them. Who are some of the people making a difference today? And how powerful are they really?

Forbidden love

At the heart of Noughts and Crosses is a tragic love story, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Like Shakespeare’s lovers, Callum and Sephy are torn apart by the warring sides to which each belongs. Do mixed-race couples still face discrimination in the world today? And why are we so fascinated by love stories?