Athol Fugard depicts various forms of oppression of women through the characters of Katrina, Elsa, and Miss Helen.  Describe the forms of oppression these three women encounter and explain what...

Athol Fugard depicts various forms of oppression of women through the characters of Katrina, Elsa, and Miss Helen.  Describe the forms of oppression these three women encounter and explain what they do to combat it.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Each of the three women in The Road to Mecca experience oppression in different ways. For Katrina it is marital and racial oppression; for Elsa it is social oppression; and for Helen, it is religious and social oppression.

  • Katrina

--Domestic abuse

A seventeen-year-old mother of a baby, Katrina works for Helen as a maid. As Elsa talks with Helen during her visit, Helen reveals that Katrina's husband, Koo, has begun to drink again; also, he has become verbally abusive to his wife. On occasions before this, he has been physically abusive, as well. Now, Elsa says, Koo has been

"...making all kinds of threats about her and the baby. He still doesn't believe its his child."

--Racial oppression

Helen treats Katrina well, but is patronizing toward her. Elsa defends Katrina and others like her, saying that Helen can  talk to Katrina about something other than the weather and her baby, saying, "Your coloured folk read newspapers, too."

  • Elsa

--Social oppression

Elsa is an idealistic teacher of the African Coloured. Possessive of youthful idealism, she engages in a rigorous rejection of the Afrikan system and encourages her black students to rebel against the status quo. When she returns from her visit to Helen, she must present herself at a school hearing, and she may be fired.

Elsa has been involved with a married man, who has returned to his wife. Having learned that she was pregnant, Elsa aborted her child, probably because of the social stigma and problems that would result. Now, however, after having given a young woman with her child a ride, Elsa reconsiders her decision and feels she may have made the wrong one.

  • Helen

--Religious oppression

Helen lives in a religious community that is offended by Helen's having left the church after the death of her husband; moreover, they object to her artistic Mecca and the statues she has created that face it.

Helen objects to the ideas of Marius Byleveld on religion because she feels that the darkness can be dispelled by the light of her candles and art, and her spiritual salvation can be achieved through her artistic endeavors and freedom.

--Social oppression

The community is opposed to the life that Helen lives, judging her art offensive; furthermore, she does not live the type of life that they consider appropriate for a woman of her age and stature.
When she talks with Elsa, Helen tells her that she has felt pressured to go to a home; she adds,

"The only reason I've got for being alive is my Mecca. Without it that I'm...nothing...a useless old woman getting on everybody's nerves...and that is what I had started to feel like.

When the Reverend Byleveld insists that Helen go to this home for the aged, Helen feels pressured, and in despair and under duress, she almost signs the papers.

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