Themes and Meanings
A Lesson from Aloes is about survival in a forbidding environment. The survival of friendship, marital love, brotherhood, one’s humanity, one’s sanity, even South Africa, are parts of the lesson. The aloe, a plant of many species native to South Africa, is used as a subtle emblem of survival in the play and, by extension, as symbolic of South Africa’s history of apartheid.
Gladys does not like aloes. To her, they are thorns and fat, fleshy leaves, plants with a bitter juice and no redeeming scent. Unlike either them or her husband Piet, she is not tough, and so has fallen victim to this hot, arid land of infertile soil and violent politics. She admires Piet and his strength for endurance but has none of it herself. She would like to have remained apart from the social involvement of Piet and Steve, but this proved impossible. Involvement came after Steve was arrested, when the police raided their house and confiscated her diaries. This caused her to suffer a breakdown and go to a mental home with the wonderfully ironic name of Fort England to recover.
Piet loves his South Africa, especially the arid Eastern Cape region of Port Elizabeth and the Karoo. An Afrikaner who found himself joining the social cause of the “coloreds” and “blacks” (official racial designations used by the apartheid-era South African government), he is as much confined by this situation as is Gladys and the rest of the country. However, Piet will...
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