Notebooks, 1960-1977 Critical Essays

Athol Fugard


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Notebooks records Fugard’s pilgrimage from the choking despair about his life in fear-ridden South Africa that he displayed early in his career toward the cautious hope that is exemplified in the later notebook entries. As his inner frustrations and rage find their proper mode of expression, his pessimism eases and he matures in outlook. He also finds a voice which is all his own. Though in his later plays he continues to take cues from other dramatists, he does so only because he chooses to, not because of artistic immaturity and lack of control. Fugard’s progression from student of existentialist masters to master in his own right is superbly chronicled by these notebooks.

Involved in Fugard’s quest for honest theater of a political nature is his pursuit of religious certainty. On one hand, the Calvinism present in the Dutch Reformed Church, under whose considerable influence he grew up, helped shape his outlook upon life: God seems to stalk him, testing him, revealing his laws. On the other hand, the atheistic existentialism of Beckett, Camus, and Sartre excites his imagination and helps shape his art. While at times Fugard finds it necessary to disavow Christianity, his notes are filled with the simple phrasing of the New Testament and his battle with apartheid is based on Christian love of one’s neighbor. Christianity’s call for soul-searching and humility and its disdain for worldly goods have also heavily influenced Fugard.

Nevertheless, Fugard’s plays are most often compared with those of the existentialists, whose emphasis...

(The entire section is 646 words.)