At a Glance

The Road to Mecca dramatizes the life of Helen Martins, a South African woman living in a Christian community. She refuses to go to a nursing home, choosing instead to build her personal "Mecca" in her yard. It's implied that she kills herself at the end of the play.

  • Elderly South African woman Helen Martins realizes that she's getting older and that her neighbors expect her to move into a nursing home soon. Pastor Marius Byleveld comes to her house to collect the papers approving this, but Helen refuses to sign.

  • Helen's friend Elsa drives down from Cape Town, worried about her friend. Elsa knows that Helen has been depressed since her husband's death and has repudiated the Christian values of her community.

  • For years, Helen has been building her own personal Mecca in her yard, filling it with art and beauty in her search for spiritual fulfillment. When she finishes building her Mecca, she drinks tea laced with valium. It's implied that this is a suicide.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

This play is based on the facts of the life and work of Helen Martins of New Bethseda, South Africa. In Fugard’s foreword he describes the isolated bleakness of the area, which is offset by Mrs. Martins, who has filled her yard with heathen statues and sculptures, all facing toward Mecca.

Helen receives an unexpected visit from her much younger friend, Elsa Barlow, who has driven eight hundred miles from Cape Town in response to a letter that seemed to her a cry for help. Helen’s depression has two causes: First, she realizes that her age is catching up with her, and second, she resents the pressure she feels to leave her Mecca and go into an old people’s home.

A third character, the Calvinist pastor, Marius Byleveld, comes to Helen’s house, expecting that she has decided to sign the form that will finalize her move to the old people’s home; however, she resists and decides to continue living as she has.

Elsa has some serious problems of her own, which she does not reveal until the end of the play. She speaks only of the African woman carrying a baby to whom she had given a lift, food, and money, a woman she left trudging patiently to some unknown destination. The stage setting for this play is pivotal to understanding the theme. Helen’s house is described as “an extraordinary room . . . the walls—mirrors on all of them—are all of different colors, while on the ceiling and floor are solid, multicolored geometric...

(The entire section is 556 words.)