Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853
The Author in Valley Song is just that: Athol Fugard himself, appearing as a character in his own play. He is a white man in his sixties, a successful and prosperous playwright who was born in the Karoo region of South Africa, but has lived most of his life in Port Elizabeth and traveled the cities of the world. Like the real-life Fugard, The Author has devoted his career to writing hopeful plays about the future of his country, but is now ‘‘sick and tired of the madness and desperate scramble of my life in the make-believe world of theatre.’’
What he wants now is to live in the ‘‘real’’ world, so he has chosen to return to the Karoo and purchase a small house on a piece of farmland, where he can live out the rest of his days writing prose (‘‘no more nonsense from actors and producers and critics’’), smelling the rich, fertile land, and eating the vegetables that grow in his own patch of the earth. His conscience, however, causes him to be troubled at the plight of Abraam Jonkers, the poor old black man who has lived his entire life on the land The Author is buying, but because of South Africa's racial discrimination, has never been able to own any of it for himself.
The Author also comes to know Jonkers' granddaughter, Veronica. Though he initially seems to challenge Veronica's dreams of one day becoming a famous singer, The Author actually understands the mysterious force that drives the young girl toward her goal, and recognizes that now that his days are coming to an end, the future belongs to her and to her generation.
Abraam Jonkers is a ‘‘Coloured’’ (mixed-race) South African man in his seventies. Called ‘‘old Buks’’ by everyone in his village and ‘‘Oupa’’ by his granddaughter, Veronica, Abraam has lived his entire life in Nieu-Bethesda, a small village in the Sneeuberg Mountains of South Africa's great Karoo region, except for his short service as a prison guard in the Transvaal during World War II. Both he and his father, Jaap Jonkers, have been tenant farmers on the property of the Landmans, a white family. When he was a boy, his father explained to him that if he grew up to be a good man, then God would make his days sweet as the grapes that grew in their valley. To be a good man, he explained, Abraam must work hard on the land, love everyone who lives in his home and village, and have faith and worship God in the village church.
Since that time, old Buks has tried to live his life just as his father directed. He has experienced many disappointments over the years. He lost his daughter to the city when she ran away to Johannesburg seeking adventure and opportunity and died there, still a young girl. He lost his beloved wife to old age, and buried her beneath the earth he loves so dearly. Now, near death himself, he is afraid of losing the only person he has left, his granddaughter, Veronica, to her dreams of becoming a famous singer.
Abraam Jonkers represents the ‘‘old’’ South Africa in the play. He is painfully aware of his racial status and what it has represented in his world—no education, little opportunity, and a constant fear of white society and its dangers. Because he has lived through the worst his country has to offer, he is not as optimistic as Veronica about her chances in the world outside their valley.
Veronica is a seventeen-year-old black teenager. Though she was born in Johannesburg, her mother died shortly afterward, and she was brought back to Nieu-Bethesda in the Sneeuberg Mountain valley by her grandmother, Betty Jonkers. A few years later, her grandmother also died, and she has been raised since then by her grandfather, Abraam, whom she calls ‘‘Oupa.’’ Unlike her grandfather, she barely remembers the injustices and atrocities of apartheid in the ‘‘old’’ South Africa. Because of this, she is freer to dream and to think about life outside the valley than her Oupa seems to be.
Veronica's big dream is to become a famous singer and appear on television. She has a naturally beautiful voice—even old Buks remembers her ‘‘singing’’ when she was just a baby—but her grandfather cannot stand the thought of her leaving him and their farm, so she must choose between the love of her Oupa and the life she has known, or the uncertainty of the world outside and the possibility that her dream might not come true.
Initially The Author challenges her, warning her that unrealistic dreams can lead to bitterness and resentment. Later, though, it is apparent that the old white man and the young black girl are a lot alike, but at different stages in their lives. The Author was once a starry-eyed dreamer with high hopes for his country, but his days of dreaming are nearing an end. Veronica, on the other hand, is just beginning. She now represents the hopes and dreams of South Africa's future.
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