Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Athol Fugard, whose best-known works emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, is one of the world’s most prominent playwrights. His messages, often couched in the existential, despairing voice of a Samuel Beckett or a Jean-Paul Sartre, concern more than anything else the singular predicament of twentieth century Afrikaners and the black and “Coloured” peoples they fear, exploit, and hope to contain. An experimenter with theater having uncommon poise and courage and one who dares write politically explosive plays in a country known for its suppression of intellectuals and artists, Fugard has given the world a number of award-winning plays which have earned for him a reputation for candor and brilliance.

In his collection of notes written over a seventeen-year period beginning in 1960 with notes for his play The Blood Knot (1961), Fugard recorded both miraculous moments and everyday occurrences, as well as the inspirations that events gave him. One can see how some simple observations of life in his hometown of Port Elizabeth and environs became the raw materials essential in creating great plays such as Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (1972), The Blood Knot, People Are Living There (1968), and The Island (1973).

These jottings are not random or disconnected; they show not only how Fugard gradually developed his most important themes and motifs but also how his Christian conscience gave him no rest. South Africa’s racial situation made him a man without a country, for his skin color allowed him to lead a life of privilege denied to those with black or mulatto complexions. He could have easily written “safe” plays for the parochial and smug state-approved theater of Johannesburg and Cape Town and...

(The entire section is 724 words.)