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Athol Fugard’s play “The Road to Mecca”

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 9 (2196 words)
Categories: ,Freedom Of Speech,Human rights,Plays
Downloads: 44
Views: 158

In Athol Fugard’s play “The Road to Mecca” he allows the audience to embark on an electrified or more like candle lit journey that tells the tales of friendship, artistic rights, women’s rights and the sanity that comes with age. We meet Mrs Helen, one eccentric old lady, Elsa, a bitter or an outspoken, modern city girl and the pastor of know all, Harris. In this essay we will discuss many themes of the play n explore in depth how Fugard uses this play to make another political statement with regards to women’s rights and the Apartheid regime.

The play shows value to the feminist groups and expresses roles of triumph through pain, freedom fighters and the sense of belonging somewhere, thus the statement “There is nothing sacred about a marriage that abuses the woman!” regards to the violence and torment some woman have to face and be victim to day in day out.

Even though the scene was set in the outcast area of South Africa, New Besthesda an isolated community in the Karoo, yet it still managed to gain some attention through the life of Miss Helen, a surviving artist and Fugard’s play.

The play shows us this incredible yet unlikely “mother-daughter” relationship that occurs between Miss Helen and Elsa. The bond they share is an unusual one and makes one feel that the one functions better with the other one around. Miss Helen is also quite intrigued and amazed by Elsa’s free will and how she can express herself and her ideas or beliefs openly and honestly and rarely thinks about the consequences or the traditional way of thinking or speaking, such as Elsa expressing herself: “She has got a few rights, Miss Helen, and I just want to make sure she knows what they are.”(p23), she wants to make sure woman know and understand that they have a right to and they have a voice to speak up against what’s wrong.

Helen is stuck in this conservative and narrow minded little Afrikaner town trying to live her life with her statues and her candles, and along comes Elsa from the city who lives in a world where its best to keep quiet and believe that white is right and to speak up and out against the government is looking for trouble. Alas this gives us an indication that the country’s way of life has caused them both pain misery and difficulties. As we discover further into the book that Elsa tries to brush off her new beliefs on to Miss Helen by making her aware of how all races and genders should be treated equally and fairly

Now one of the major themes of the play, is that of women’s rights and the issues woman have to undertake in their lives whether she be single? Married or having an affair. Elsa is not the Main role in the book; however she is the most vocal of the three characters in the play when it came to rights and equality. She believed that all women have rights and can get the support they would need as the law states it. Elsa voices her opinion by saying Katrina should get rid of that “drunken bully” (p23), because in Elsa’s opinion, Katrina can find “Find somebody who will value her as a human being’ and she also says ““She has got a few rights, Miss Helen, and I just want to make sure she knows what they are.” (p23) She makes her opinion known to the “insiders” of the conformed town such as Harris the good pastor of the town, (as she and Miss Helen are the outsiders) because she values freedom of speech and the right to be heard, for example, the conversation of “Gertruida”, Miss Helen, alongside the rest of the town is appalled by this woman who would like to open a bottle store in this Afrikaner town. Elsa comes in and demands that’s Gertriuda stands up for herself “Tell her to demand her rights to get up there and put her case” (p24) and starts using her voice, her freedom of speech. Then we move cross to the pastor who has an immense influence on his congregation, makes a claim to the coloured community that the bottle store will not be in favour of their lifestyle, yet Elsa states again: “Has anybody bothered to ask the coloured people what they think about it all?” (p25), pointing out that they to have an opinion and a voice and can speak for themselves.

The community of New Bethesda are still the “conservative White Afrikaners” who are set in their ways and ideas and are not prone to change or anything new or different. They solely believe in their traditions and customs of religion of Christianity and their daily routines, all of which, Miss Helen was once a part of. Before the passing of her late husband, Miss Helen was a church going lady she could only dream of her “mecca” on the inside but 15 years ago when her husband had died, a new beginning had started for Miss Helen, her frail dying depressed candle which was being “smothered” by her husband had started shining BRITGHTER once again as she started working on her Road to Mecca, but all this aside, Miss Helen’s “Owl house” and her “Camel yard” was not accepted within her conformed environment an she was deemed a crazy lunatic by the people of New Bethesda. However, her art was her escape her freedom from the social and governmental politics of the community.

She didn’t express herself verbally to the world like Elsa did, quite the opposite, she expressed her ideas, her rights as an artist and a female, her way of thinking and feeling through her art and this strange and new eruption within the community threatened them because they never understood her or what she was trying to create. Miss Helens home and front yard was her right to be who she wanted to be, as is the right of all humans, unfortunately she was judged, condemned and shunned for her lifestyle and her artistic expressions. She lights her life with cement figures in her Camel yard, which was her route to Mecca, but not the Mecca in the sense of how the Muslims take their Road to Mecca, but this Mecca is a place of freedom for Miss Helen. She makes all her figurines face east which is the direction of Mecca and at times doesn’t have an explanation for her art but it’s a reflection of who she really is, “It is the best of me, Elsa”, says Miss Helen to Elsa (p34). Then she surrounds herself with candles and mirrors and little figurines inside her home, this is how she represents her rights, the right to freedom of expression, through her art, “little miracle of light and colour” (p33), is how to describe it best.

The community assumed Helen to go into a state of depression or die after her husband’s death but instead she began to create her Mecca and in turn it isolated her from the people of the community, except the minister, Marius. Although he has good intentions an comes with good faith, Helen feels as though him and his people (the Afrikaner community) are forcing her to do something that she doesn’t want to do and it’s against her right and will. We understand that Marius feels responsible for Miss Helen as she was once part of the church and he feels sad that she has drifted away from the church and taken up this “hobby” he would call it which has caused a commotion with in the public, thus he tries to bring her back to his flock. This implies that Marius felt more for Helen that he let on as he tries his best to stay in Helens life even though Elsa disapproves of their friendship, but Miss Helen defends Marius against Elsa, as would she do the same for Elsa against Marius. This whole situation makes the play more intense as it brings a new theme to light, the theme of love, making it a love story as well.

The theme of love brings about another challenge that women have to face. Miss Helen was married but she was never truly happy within her marriage. She is an example of how men caused woman to change and become conformed, conservative and subservient people. Woman had to follow the masses and stick to the stereotype the government and the social standards had laid out for them, but when Helens husband had passed on, she was brave enough to step out of the comfort zone and become her true self. Helen did, however mourn her husband’s death, but differently to the norm of how it’s done, she was even shocked when Elsa questioned it: “You didn’t know I wasn’t mourning Stefanus’s death. He was a good man, and it was very sad that he had died so young, but I never loved him.” (pg.71). Her marriage was a jail without bars and when her husband died she felt more relieved than sad, as she admits she did not love him, as she describes it as “the darkness that nearly smothered”.

But she still believes in what marriage stands for and that women who are married stay married and do not betray their husbands, such as Helen and Katrina, she’s a coloured woman who helps and visits Helen and is being threatened by her drunken husband, Koos. “Why doesn’t she leave him?” Elsa says. “She can’t do that,” says Helen. “They’re married.” Elsa replies, “There’s the Afrikaner in you speaking. There is nothing sacred about a marriage that abuses the woman!” she is an example of how women’s rights were abused to the fullest extent. Her husband has an inferior complex and is paranoid, thus he accuses Katrina of infidelity and therefore abuses her. This is the sort of conflict that poor coloured woman have to face and they do not have the courage or the physical ability to defend their rights against the wrongs they need to endure, however, Elsa asserts that they have the right to fight back as much as possible, because they are victims and they have rights to be taken serious as well, she also comments by saying Katrina should “find somebody who will value her as a human being” (pg. 23), because regardless of gender or race they have rights.

In the black community men are supposed to provide for their families, thus this notion allows Fugard to insert a silent character into the play. Elsa describes how she needed to give a black woman a lift and the circumstances surrounding this black woman. The black woman describes how she was kicked off from a farm where her late husband had worked, but because of his death she was forced to leave. This was a challenge she was meant to solve herself, however difficult her situation was she was brave and did what she must. This was another small theme, how life was very difficult for the black or coloured women in South Africa, and without their husbands they felt they had nothing. Elsa, who is against the idea of the traditional marriage also, has man trouble and thus she is not immune to violation that men cause against women.

In conclusion, the play, The Road to Mecca, sends out an important message of free expression that all women deserve and are entitled to and that women’s problems and rights appear to be mainly caused by men. Athol Fugard distils the intimate personal stories and the physical and spiritual struggles against apartheid in South Africa that women have to face and he voices the concern that they were being judged if they did not respond to the conformity and the way of life apartheid had forced upon them. He focuses on how Helen and Elsa do not let themselves be completely controlled by more powerful persons, instead they have or a moral or intellectual force that drives them to do what is right for themselves and women who live in similar environments and conditions. It displays a deep and significant message about the importance of women’s right to express them freely. Although they live in a culture with certain social norms and conformities, these two strong women characters were not afraid of pursuing their dreams and did not fear of what others would think of their ideas and themselves as human beings or accepting their way of life, so they dared to be different. This was the message Fugard portrayed throughout his play that being different was against the ideas of the masses and woman, whether black or white, they
also had social and government rights that were abused by men and social norms.


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  2. Journal of Educational and Social Research,MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy,Vol. 4 No.1,January 2014 A Critical Analysis of Athol Fugard’s Social Vision in Four Selected Plays, Mwihia Margaret Njok, Mount Kenya University, Dr. Collins Ogogo, Mount Kenya University
  3. http://www.southafrica.info/about/arts/owl-house-251005.htm
  4. Dramaturgical Notes composed by Judy Braha, Thomas Martin, and Todd Siff
  5. http://www.literator.org.za/index.php/literator/article/download/459/620.
  6. http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/2012/02/the-road-to-mecca-explores-womens-self-fulfillment-in-conservative-culture/
  7. http://www.literator.org.za/index.php/literator/article/download/797/967.
  8. https://www.bu.edu/cfa/bcap/meccanotes.pdf.
  9. http://www.mcser.org/journal/index.php/jesr/article/download/1824/1823.
  10. http://www.scribd.com/doc/118589778/Study-guide-for-ENG1501

Cite this essay

Athol Fugard’s play “The Road to Mecca”. (2016, May 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/athol-fugards-play-the-road-to-mecca-essay

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