Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 779
Boesman and Lena are "coloured" South Africans wandering through the mudflats by the Swartkops River. In the first act, they stagger onstage carrying everything they own: pots, pans, clothes, wine, a mattress, and other small items. Earlier the same day, they were driven out of their old home when a bulldozer came to destroy the itinerant camp where they had built their "pondok" or hut. It is clear from the brutality of the destruction that the residents of the homeless camp were targeted because of the color of their skin. Boesman and Lena is set during apartheid in South Africa, and racism drove the white ruling class to push homeless "coloureds" like Boesman and Lena as far away from white neighborhoods as possible. Author Athol Fugard makes it clear that this isn't the first time Boesman and Lena have been driven out of their homes. Both characters are in their fifties, and they appear to have been living this itinerant life together for decades.
One would think that these hardships would bring Boesman and Lena closer together, but in fact the pair seem curiously ill-suited. Lena is understandably bitter and depressed about their situation, and she describes the mudflats in a negative light, saying, "This piece of world is rotten. Put down your foot and you're in it up to your knee." Given that stage productions of the play can't always add real mud or dirt to the stage, this line also serves as description for the audience, enhancing the already bleak, depressing atmosphere. Boesman, meanwhile, is alternately taciturn and abusive, oscillating between giving Lena the silent treatment and savagely lashing out at her. Boesman claims to just want peace while building their new pondok out of corrugated iron and scrap metal. While he works, she recalls the names of all the shantytowns that they have been driven out of over the years: Redhouse, Veeplaas, Korsten, Bethelsdorp, Mission Vale, Kleinskool. It is important to Lena to remember. Her history is a personalized account of life under apartheid, and experiences like hers were common at the time. In effect, her attempt to reconstruct her past is an attempt to make sense of the history of apartheid. Its injustices are both the subject of and the inspiration for the play.
Partway through the first act, Lena notices a man sitting across the mudflats. She invites him over in spite of Boesman's objections and eagerly attempts to start a conversation, desperate for a real conversation with someone other than Boesman. Unfortunately, the man only speaks Xhosa, a tribal language, and can't understand English or Afrikaans. Nevertheless, Lena invites the man to sit at the fire. She calls him Outa, a name that means Old Father. Irritated, Boesman stalks off to collect some firewood. In his absence, Lena feels free to tell Outa all about the abuse, the moves, and the dog she had to leave behind that morning. Outa...
(The entire section contains 779 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Boesman and Lena study guide. You'll get access to all of the Boesman and Lena content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Act Summaries
- Critical Essays
- Teaching Guide