Boesman and Lena

by Athol Fugard

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Act II Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706

An hour later, Boesman's wine is filling his head, and for entertainment he forces Lena to recall the morning's events in Korsten. In a rude, mocking voice and crude pantomime he imitates her distress when the white men came with their bulldozers to knock down their shanty town. To Lena, it was a travesty, another indignity heaped upon them by their white oppressors. Boesman, however, claims that watching his shabby hut fall actually made him happy and set him free. ‘‘Freedom! That's what the white man gave us,’’ Boesman cries. ‘‘When we picked up our things and started to walk I wanted to sing. It was Freedom!’’

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With all of his newfound freedom, however, Boesman could still only return to the familiar and the mundane. With all of the world seemingly stretched out before him, he still picked up an old piece of scrap metal and built another pondok on the banks of the Swartkops, just like he had done many times before. In his disgust at this realization, Boesman retreats back into his shelter with his second bottle of wine.

Left alone with Outa again, Lena tries to cheer herself up by talking some more. She describes to the old man the feeling of traveling with all of your belongings on your back, the sweat that comes from hard work in the sun, and the comfort that can be found in a cheap bottle of liquor. Finally, in a desperate attempt to chase away the misery and frustration that is closing in all around her, she begins to clap and sing and dance, working herself into a sweat before crawling under a blanket with Outa again.

Disgusted at the sight, Boesman, who has been unable to find a way to hurt the white men who are his real oppressors, discovers another way to take his frustrations out on Lena. He admits that when he beat her that morning for dropping some of their collected deposit bottles, it was actually he who had broken them when the white men chased them away.

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To Lena, this insult is worse than the bruises she received from his beating. ‘‘Why do you hit me?’’ she implores. ‘‘To keep your life warm? Learn to dance, Boesman. Leave your bruises on the earth.'' She shakes Outa to prevent him from falling asleep and demands that he be a witness to the next beating Boesman is sure to give her. Their fight escalates, with Lena begging Boesman to beat her and Boesman screaming in his frustration that their lives are not worth the two holes they will someday be buried in.

At the end of Boesman's tirade, Lena stops him short. The old man has finally stopped muttering and has died in her arms. Outa's death at the end of this day is too much for Boesman. His response changes from mockery to accusation to wild defensiveness, and finally he attacks Outa's lifeless body, beating the corpse like he has beaten Lena so many times in the past.

‘‘Look at you!’’ Lena screams. ‘‘Look at your hands! Fists again. When Boesman doesn't understand something, he hits it.'' She tells Boesman that now he must leave, and she is staying behind. When the authorities find Outa's body, she threatens, they will find the bruises he left all over it and they will search for Boesman as the old man's killer. As Boesman gathers up all of their belongings for another flight across the countryside, it is Lena's turn to taunt. "Tonight it's Freedom for Lena,'' she cries. "Whiteman gave you yours this morning, but you lost it.’’

In the end, however, Lena cannot exist without her Boesman. She bids one last goodbye to the old man, who had been a strange sort of friend to her for such a short time, then shoulders some of Boesman's burden, and starts to follow him off down the road. ‘‘Where we going?’’ she asks. ‘‘Better be far.’’

‘‘Coega to Veeplaas,’’ he answers. Boesman finally helps Lena remember all of the places they have visited, in their proper order, and she realizes ‘‘It doesn't explain anything.’’ Then, with a final look around their desolate campsite, Boesman and Lena shuffle off into the darkness again.

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Act I Summary