In the play No Good Friday, the main character is Willie Seopolo, the scholar in the township. He has realized that although he is educated, he will be unable to advance socially and economically because of the colour of his skin. His dreams and hopes fade away as he realizes that they now mean nothing, it was a waste of time to dream in the first place. There is no social mobility and the blacks have no rights. He refuses to adopt this mentality and to accept fate.
I prefer to view Willie as a tragic hero rather than a tragic figure. A tragic hero may be defined as an honourable character with a fatal flaw that eventually leads to his ruin. Willie’s fatal flaw was his desire to live a fair life without restrictions. He resented the fact that the whites were in control and wanted to be treated equally. He was admired by the people of Sophiatown for being educated. They looked up to him and held him in high esteem. Because he was educated he was able to view certain issues from a different perspective. Unlike the typical residents of Sophiatown who simply accepted their social reality, he stood for change and equality.
From the beginning of the play it is noticed that Willie does not accept the status that the dominant whites have given to him. When Guy explains to Tobias how he must behave ‘yes baas, no bass, thank you bass even if he kicks you in the backside’ Willie gets upset and shouts ‘Stop it, damn you!’. It is evident that Willie is angry and discontented with his current position. Although he does not accept it, he has no choice but to live with it. As a result he feels an overwhelming unhappiness ‘loneliness melancholy, despair’. He made a mistake believing that education was an escape. He realizes that even if he is educated, he is no one because of his skin colour. This rude awakening brings across a feeling of anger and hopelessness “Bloody Ass! That’s what I think of B.A”.
All that he ever hoped and dreamed for was impossible. He is sick of being intelligent because he knows it means nothing. After Tobais dies, Willie feels an overwhelming amount of guilt, shame and grief “I’m sick of my whole life. Everything!” The dreams that Tobias had for himself and his family reminded him of the dreams that he had when he was a child. He hated Tobias because he was full of dreams that would never be fulfilled. After Tobias’s funeral it is almost as if Willie says farewell to his own hopes and dreams. He is unable to write to Tobias’s family, incapable of fulfilling his only purpose as being educated in a township. He is made more aware that the apartheid system is inevitable and even more unwilling to accept it.
Willie then has a strong urge to do something about the situation. He is tired of seeing men with hopes and dreams carried out in coffins, he is tired of the oppression. He is aware that idea of going to the police would just bring about laughter but he does it anyway. He lets go of his pride with the false hope of achieving a goal. When the police simply laugh at Willie he is even more angered and frustrated by the situation. The police are Shark’s protectors and are only concerned with apartheid laws, not criminal laws. This is ironic in the sense that apartheid laws are criminal and inhumane.
Willie’s stance does not fit into the social reality. His friends refuse to stand next to him against Shark. They see what he is doing but they do not accept it. They let Shark kill him and do not try to stand against him. Willie dies with the sense that he has nothing to live for and the hope that he will bring about a change.
Willie does not view himself as a hero. Infact, rather than being a selfish hero, I view Willie as being a selfless tragic hero. He could not have been sacrificing his life for selfish motives because he would not benefit from them. He believed that it would serve as an awakening to those around him and maybe change their mentality. He may not have fulfilled his purpose as the mindset of the people in the township might not change, but he died with the idea that he would cause a change. For this reason Willie is a tragic hero.
Fugard Athol, Township Plays, Introduction by Dennis Walder, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 1999