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.