What do the sculptures in "The Road to Mecca" represent?
South African writer Athol Fugard’s play The Road to Mecca focuses on the protagonist Miss Helen, an elderly widow living in New Bethesda in 1974. Miss Helen is known by townspeople for her elaborate sculpture garden. She began making the sculptures 15 years earlier after her husband’s death. The various cement and mosaic glass-covered sculptures depict figures such as owls, camels, and Wise Men all facing east toward Mecca.
This sculpture garden has major significance in the play. First, the sculptures represent Helen’s artistic expression. After her husband’s death, she resolves to fill her life with light through creative work. The sculptures can be seen as symbolic of not just her struggle for artistic fulfillment but also the greater struggle of women and minorities for self-expression and fulfillment.
The sculptures are also important because of how others react to them. Miss Helen’s artwork creates conflict with her conventional neighbors, who are suspicious of the eccentric sculptures. This reaction may be symbolic of South African society at the time and social pressure to conform to expected codes of behavior.
Another possibility is that the sculptures are significant for religious reasons. Helen rejects Christian imagery for Muslim imagery in her artwork. The character Marius supports this interpretation because he condemns the statues as a form of idolatry or false worship. Helen’s Road to Mecca sculptures can thus represent her finding her own spiritual road through artistic fulfillment.
The sculptures in "The Road to Mecca," together with Miss Helen Martins's interior decorations, all serve to represent the same thing. At the simplest level, the artistic pieces all represent Miss Helen's creativity. An unfortunate side effect of her sculptures is that they have created distance between her and her Christian neighbors.
Through her creative expressions, Miss Helen believes that she is keeping a spiritual darkness at bay. That is why her home is so decorated with candles and mirrors. It is so that every corner of her house is bathed in light. The light keeps the darkness away. The sculptures and lighting serve as her creative pathway to Mecca. She is not on a literal journey to the city of Mecca, but she is on a path to find spiritual comfort. All of the objects on her property represent her chosen method of finding spiritual comfort. Pastor Marius may not agree with it, but by the end of the story, he understands it. Miss Helens's art represents her road to salvation.