Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 532
This play, first produced in Johannesburg, may be considered seminal in that it defines clearly the society of South Africa under apartheid, a society that Fugard loathed.
Morris, who can pass for white, and his half brother, Zachariah, most definitely an African, share a one-room shack in the nonwhite slum of Korsten, near Port Elizabeth.
Zachariah is completely illiterate and a little slow-witted, but he has a menial job as a gatekeeper. Morris acts as homemaker—cleaning their room, cooking the meals, mending Zachariah’s clothing, and preparing nightly footbaths for his brother.
In the year they have been together Morris has saved part of Zach’s pay each week with the goal of accumulating enough cash to buy a small farm far from the area so that they can live as independent human beings.
Zachariah, however, is more interested in the present than the future. He remembers a friend who used to help him squander each week’s pay on wine and women, and he is quite resentful of his brother’s somewhat puritanical attitude.
To placate Zachariah, Morris suggests a pen pal, to be found in a newspaper listing women interested in this kind of activity. Not entirely convinced that this will take the place of “having a woman,” Zach finally chooses Ethel Lange, and dictates a letter to Morris. She replies, enclosing a picture of herself that brings Morris to his senses. Zachariah has brought home a white newspaper, and has corresponded with a white woman whose brother is a policeman. She also writes that she will be coming to their area in June, and Morris panics. He wants to burn all the letters and forget the whole thing, but Zachariah convinces him to meet Ethel, passing as a white man, and insists on using all the money they have saved to buy the appropriate clothing for the occasion. The next letter from Ethel is a farewell note; she is being married and her fiancé does not want her to continue the pen pal correspondence.
This plot is the skeleton that Fugard fleshes out. Fugard emphasizes the blood knot that has brought Morris back to his half brother after years of separation. They remember having the same mother; they recall fleeting glimpses of early childhood when the light-skinned child was favored over his brother; they act out an imaginary scene in which Morris, dressed in the white man’s finery, mistreats the African gatekeeper. They even pretend to chase away an old black woman, who represents both their birth mother and Mother Africa.
Throughout their playacting they vent their frustrations. Morris intimates that he has tried to “pass” but failed; Zachariah shows his deep-seated envy of Morris. At one time, after Morris has gone through the imaginary gate, it is “locked,” and when he cannot “escape,” the two men almost come to blows. In the end, Morris winds up his old alarm clock, the one he has used throughout the play to remind him of tasks such as fixing Zachariah’s footbath, preparing supper, or going to sleep. Morris says: “You see, we’re tied together, Zach. It’s what they call the blood knot . . . the bond between brothers.”
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