Topics for Further Study

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  • Athol Fugard has spent much of his career as a playwright creating dramas that tell powerful stories about the lives of individual people, while at the same time criticizing South Africa's unjust system of apartheid. Read a Fugard play written before 1990, during the apartheid era, such as Master Harold … and the Boys or My Children! My Africa! How is Fugard's work from this time different from Valley Song, a play written for the “new” South Africa? How are the two plays similar? Consider such things as each play's setting, characters, and dominant themes.
  • In literature, a symbol is something that represents something else, and is often used to communicate deeper levels of meaning. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel The Scarlet Letter, for example, the red letter “A” worn by Hester Prynne is a symbol not only of her supposed crime (adultery), but also of her neighbors' bigotry and her own courageous pride. Like many playwrights who write about important ideas, Fugard relies on many symbols in his work to communicate deeper levels of meaning to his audiences. In Valley Song, one of the more important symbols is the land in the Sneeuberg Mountain valley, where Abraam and Veronica Jonkers live and where The Author has chosen to retreat in his old age. Examine all the ways the land is viewed by the characters, and explain how it becomes an important symbol in the play.
  • The word “apartheid” means “separateness” in the Afrikaans, or Cape Dutch, language of South Africa. Apartheid was used as a social and political tool by the ruling National Party from 1948 to 1994 to divide the races in South Africa and provide separate treatment for each. Research apartheid and how it affected the lives of blacks, whites, “Coloureds,” and Asians living in South Africa. How might this system have affected Abraam Jonkers' lot in life as a rural coloured man? What benefits might The Author have received as an urban white man? What challenges is Veronica likely to face in Johannesburg as a young black girl, even though apartheid has officially ended?
  • Dreams are important in one way or another to each of the characters in Valley Song. What do each of the characters dream about? How does each character try to achieve his or her dream? How likely is each characters' dream to come true?
  • What are some of the ways age and youth are important to Valley Song? Consider such things as how the young and old characters view things differently, the importance of the past to the events of the play, and how the passage of time is affecting racial politics in South Africa.

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