The Road to Mecca

by Athol Fugard
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What themes are linked in Athol Fugard's plays The Road to Mecca and My Children! My Africa!?

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While Athol Fugard's play My Children! My Africa! more overtly concerns apartheid than his play The Road to Mecca, both very clearly concern the theme of being crushed by an oppressive social system.

The Road to Mecca is set in New Bethesda, a predominantly white village established by the Dutch Reformed Church, 1875, in the Karoo, South Africa's semi-desert. Being set in a predominantly white village, the play does not contain the same overtly racial tensions found in My Children! My Africa!; however, since Fugard was a strong critic of apartheid who wrote all of his anti-apartheid plays in exile, both plays certainly contain critical anti-apartheid tones.

In The Road To Mecca, since her husband's death, the protagonist Miss Helen has felt at liberty to pursue her true creativity. The result is that she has filled her yard with cement statues of animals and Wise Men--all facing towards Mecca in the east. Yet, all who live in the village think she has gone completely insane. People, like Marius, the minister, continue to try to imprison Miss Helen by insisting she move into an assisted living facility. Marius's belief that she should be in an assisted living facility, rather than continue to live independently and freely express herself, represents an oppressive social system and helps develop Fugard's theme concerning oppressive social systems. It represents a repressive social system because it shows how much society has a tendency to believe that those who move against the grain of society should be repressed.

In addition, Marius represents those in favor of apartheid, which further helps develop Fugard's theme concerning oppressive social systems. We see him subtly express a favorable opinion of apartheid when he makes the following comment to Elsa:

There are no hungry people, white of Coloured, in this village. (p. 43)

His comment reveals his blind optimism, an optimism fueled by racial prejudices. We further see his racial prejudices when Miss Helen bemoans the news that the Divisional Council is moving her African friend Katrina out of the village. Marius wrongfully interprets her comment as bemoaning the fact that she is losing a faithful servant, as we can tell when he says in reply, "I'll lend you my faithful old Nonna" (p. 53). His comment exposes his racism because it shows he only equates Africans with servitude, not friendship as Miss Helen does. Marius's racism further serves to develop the theme revealing the hardships and consequences that go hand in hand with oppressive societies.

Similarly, in My Children! My Africa!, Fugard develops the theme concerning the hardships of oppression through his plot and characters. Set in a Bantu classroom, the play much more overtly concerns the topic of apartheid. The star student, Thami Mbikwana, is involved in publicly protesting against apartheid and the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which segregated schools into white and nonwhite schools and permitted the government to stop funding nonwhite schools. While Thami's teacher, Mr. Anela Myalatya, called Mr. M for short, acknowledges the hardships segregation causes, he strongly objects to the violent methods of protest Thami is involved in, methods Mr. M refers to as "vandalism and lawless behavior." Fugard uses Thami's actions to develop the theme concerning the hardships and consequences of an oppressive society. In addition, though Mr. M and Thami both oppose apartheid, the ending of the play is tragic because Thami and his comrades murder Mr. M for having given to the police the names of his students who participated in the school boycott. The dramatic ending serves to illustrate that an oppressive society can even divide those who should be united, a further consequence of apartheid.

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