Athol Fugard

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Examine the relationship between guilt and goodwill in The Train Driver by focusing on Fugard's characterization.

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In The Train Driver by Athol Fugard, guilt drives Roelf Visagie on a search for the grave of a woman and child he accidentally killed but actually leads him to new insights and to an unexpected friendship with a man whose life is based on goodwill toward others.

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In The Train Driver by Athol Fugard, guilt drives Roelf Visagie on a search for the grave of a woman and child he accidentally killed but actually leads him to new insights and to an unexpected friendship with a man whose life is based on goodwill toward others.

Roelf is a train driver, and one day, a woman steps out onto the tracks right in front of his train. She has a baby strapped to her back, and Roelf sees them clearly, but there is absolutely nothing he can do. Trains cannot stop in an instant, and the woman and baby are both killed on impact.

Roelf is in no way responsible for their deaths, yet he feels a strong sense of guilt. This guilt drives him into a search for the grave of the woman and child. He doesn't know their names. The police don't even know their names. So the search seems hopeless. Roelf doesn't even quite know why he is trying to find them, other than what he tells himself: namely, that he wants to curse the woman for stepping in front of the train and causing all this grief.

The train driver's search leads him to a bleak graveyard maintained by a Black man named Simon Hanabe. Simon's role in life is to bury the unnamed, unclaimed bodies of people like the dead woman and child. He does this out of a sense of necessity, for someone must perform this task. Yet he goes about it with a commitment that can only be based on a deep goodwill toward the people he buries.

Simon cannot find the grave of the woman and child, but as Roelf stays with him, still searching, a friendship develops between the two men. Roelf learns many things about the squatter camp where the woman once lived and the despair she must have faced. He admits that he once thought he knew everything about people like her. Now he realizes how little he really understands. He no longer wants to curse this woman; rather, he feels a strong sympathy for her. His guilt has surprisingly driven him to new insights and a new sense of goodwill toward a class of people he only scorned before.

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