In Athol Fugard's play The Road to Mecca, how is conflict built up to create dramatic tension between Elsa and Helen? How are Elsa and Helen both round characters that develop during the play? Why...

In Athol Fugard's play The Road to Mecca, how is conflict built up to create dramatic tension between Elsa and Helen? How are Elsa and Helen both round characters that develop during the play? Why is Elsa angry, sad, and hurting? What does artistic creation mean to Helen? Why does Helen need to be courageous?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Athol Fugard's play The Road to Mecca progresses, the more we learn about the conflicts between Elsa and Helen. Plus, the more these conflicts develop, the more dramatic tension is developed.

One source of conflict between the two is that Elsa objects to the religious and racist influences Helen surrounds herself with, having lived all her life in New Bethesda, a village established by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1875. One religious influence Elsa objects to is the village's stance on drinking. A member of the village, Old Getruida, has decided to rise up against the village by opening up her own liquor store. She plans to use the profits to help fund the native Africans' project to build their own school. However, the pastor, Marius, has risen up against the idea and has even given a sermon warning against the "evils of alcohol and how it's ruining the health and lives of our Coloured folks" (p. 12). When Elsa protests against Helen's support of her pastor's view, Helen points out that the situation of their African friend and servant, Katrina, who suffers at the hands of an alcoholic husband, would only worsen. When their conversation continues into the domain of apartheid, Elsa shows just how much she objects to the village's religious and racist views by asking Helen the following:

Why do you always stand up and defend this bunch of bigots? Look at the way they've treated you? (p. 14)

The second and greatest source of conflict between the two is that Helen is beginning to submit to the village's notion that she should be put in an assisted living facility, whereas Elsa staunchly objects to the idea. Elsa sees Helen as being successful at living her life independently and that she still has a great deal of living to do because she still has a great deal of art to create. This conflict reaches its pinnacle when, out of frustration, while in Marius's presence, Elsa breaks down and yells to Helen to command her to sign the application form for the assisted living facility. At first, when she hears Marius explain about the accidental fire, she relents and begins to feel that Helen really should be in the assisted living facility; however, as Marius continues the argument, Elsa returns to her former belief that Helen needs to keep living a life that will allow her to freely express herself. The intensity of the conflict creates quite a lot of dramatic tension, not just between Elsa and Helen but between Elsa and Marius as well.

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The Road to Mecca

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