Boesman and Lena

by Athol Fugard

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The setting for Boesman and Lena is extremely important to the plot and its characters. South Africa in 1969 was a country torn apart by the policies of apartheid, which demanded strict segregation of races. Blacks, whites, and "coloureds" were forced to live, work, and attend school and public functions separated from one another, causing a great deal of strife among the different racial groups in South Africa, until they were integrated in the 1980s. The United States has its own history of segregation, strife, and integration. Research America's racially divided past and compare it to South Africa's. What is the timeline for each? What practices did the two countries have in common? What finally led to integration in each country? What race-related problems do the two countries face today as a result of a segregated past?

Fugard has cited the Irish-born French playwright Samuel Beckett as a major influence on his writing. Read one of Beckett's major plays, perhaps Waiting for Godot or Endgame, and compare and contrast Beckett's style of "Absurdist" theater with Fugard's. Consider such things as setting, plot and character development, and how each author treats important themes in his work.

Because of its unique history of colonization by many different groups of European settlers, as well as several different native tribes, South Africa recognizes eleven different official national languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa, two languages used by characters in Boesman and Lena. What are the eleven official languages of South Africa? What is the origin of each? Which ones have been especially important in the struggle over apartheid? Why did Fugard choose to use so many "foreign" words in an English-language play? What effect does this have on your perception of the characters?

Watch a film about South Africa and its race relations, such as Cry, the Beloved Country (1951/1995), Cry Freedom (1987), or A Dry, White Season (1989). What are some of the common themes found in both the films and Fugard's drama Boesman and Lena? How are the characters in each alike? How are they different? These films were each produced primarily for American audiences, while Fugard's play premiered in South Africa. Can you identify any differences between them based on their intended audiences?

The relationship Boesman and Lena share is often an abusive one. She assaults him verbally, while he actually beats her physically, leaving bruises and scars. Why do they stay together? Why do they treat each other this way? What could they do differently to improve their relationship?

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