The Island, By Athol Fugard Essay
The Island is indeed an actor's play, for acting is its central metaphor and idea: acting as a means for the acting out of one's life, acting as a form of survival, and acting as a basis for (political) action.
In The Island, two black prisoners, John and Winston, are men whose political stands against the state have caused them to be incarcerated, sentenced without determinable end in Robben Island prison. They are dressed in shorts "to look like the boys their keepers would make them." But clearly the authorities wish them to be far, far less than boys, for the prisoners are treated with extreme brutality and are given the sorts of tasks meant to reduce them from men to beasts, to annihilate the last shreds of their humanity.
Their humanity, however, remains intact and it does so because the two men continue to act as humans by using dramatic acting as the means for sustaining their humanity. Improvisation becomes the means through which John and Winston understand and practice their humanity.
The opening actions of The Island provide a painful, moving dumb show from which the drama that follows can be built. The extended mime of John and Winston's labours with wheelbarrow and sand shows the dehumanising, pointless tedium of life on Robben Island. With the blast of a second whistle, the transfer of sand concludes and a new mime commences. This time John and Winston are handcuffed, joined at the ankles, and forced to run in tandem. A subhuman race is portrayed, "They start to run ... John mumbling a prayer, Winston muttering a rhythm for their three-legged run" Rather than reducing them to despair or turning them into tortured animals, it serves to evoke the very things that raise men above bestiality manifested in John's prayer and manifested in Winston's creating a rhythm so that the two men may with dignity run in unison.
Finally, after the men are beaten and returned wounded to their cell, the dumb show gives way first to inchoate sounds and then to words of rage and pain. Winston's pain causes John to act, to urinate and use his urine as an antiseptic to wash Winston's wounded eye. As the two men thus act to assuage each other's bodily injuries, Winston exclaims, "Nyana we Sizwe" ("brother of the land"), affirming the power of brotherhood and the indomitability of the two men's human spirit.
The Island shows the backfiring of a system that wishes to rob John and Winston of their humanity by reducing them to beasts. Their white guard is unseen. Only his irritating noises and the sting of his blows are heard and he is reduced by Fugard to a character in a mean-spirited beast fable.39 John and Winston remain triumphantly human. Hodoshe exemplifies the prison guards whose humanity devolves into animal behavior, whereas the prisoners, Winston and John, create their humanity out of the very bestiality that has been forced on them. Their guards hail down beatings and wounds upon them; their human fastidiousness had been...
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Athol Fugard686 words - 3 pages Athol Harold Lannigan Fugard was a South African dramatist, actor, and director was born in Middelburg, South Africa in 1932. His full name is Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard and as a child he was known as Hally before he decided he wanted to be called Athol. Fugard is white with English and Afrikaner parents. He was brought up in
The Island (1973) Athol Fugard
A Quick Rundown of The Island
- The Island is a Fugard play that resorts to the Classics to protest Apartheid.
- It takes place in four scenes, opening with a lengthy mimed sequence in which John and Winston, two cell mates in prison on Robben Island, carry out one of the totally pointless and exhausting tasks designed by warders to break the spirit of political prisoners.
- Winston has been sentenced to prison for life because he burned his passbook in front of a police station.
- John has been imprisoned for belonging to a banned organization.
- The story traces the relationship of these two men. Winston is the active rebel,
- and John, the intellectual, is trying to persuade him to play Antigone in a condensed
- two-character version of SophoclesÐ²Ð‚™ play.
- It is to be a prison Ð²Ð‚ÑšconcertÐ²Ð‚Ñœ for their fellow prisoners and the guards.
- However, Winston rebels at playing Antigone. He doesnÐ²Ð‚™t want the other prisoners to laugh at him for being dressed as a woman, wearing a mop for a wig, false Ð²Ð‚Ñštitties,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ and a necklace made of salvaged nails. He protests, Ð²Ð‚ÑšIÐ²Ð‚™m a man, not a bloody woman ... Shit man, you want me to go out there tomorrow night and make a bloody fool of myself?Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (p. 208).
- John finally convinces him to cooperate by putting the dress on himself and saying, Ð²Ð‚ÑšÐ²Ð‚¦ behind all this rubbish is me, and you know itÐ²Ð‚™s me. You think those bastards out there wonÐ²Ð‚™t know itÐ²Ð‚™s you? Yes, theyÐ²Ð‚™ll laugh. But who cares about that as long as they laugh in the beginning and listen at the end. ThatÐ²Ð‚™s all we want them to do Ð²Ð‚¦ listen at the end!Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (p. 210).
- Then John is taken to the office of the head warden and told that his appeal against his sentence has been granted. His ten-year term has been reduced to three years. In three months, he will be free.
- But Winston is now facing a bleak future without the friend whose imagination has helped to keep him sane.
- In the final scene, as the two present their version of Antigone,
- Antigone/Winston tells the legendary king of Thebes, Creon, and the audience:
- Ð²Ð‚ÑšYou are only a man, Creon. Even as there are laws made by men, so too there are others that come from God. He watches my soul for a transgression even as your spies hide in the bush at night to see who is transgressing your laws. Guilty against God I will not be for any man on this earth...But if I had let my motherÐ²Ð‚™s son, a Son of the Land, lie there as food for the carrion fly, Hodoshe, my soul would never have known peace.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (p. 226)
- Ð²Ð‚ÑšA Son of the LandÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (Nyana wa Sizwe) is WinstonÐ²Ð‚™s battle cry that articulates his identity.
- At the end of the Ð²Ð‚Ñšconcert,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ John and Winston then take off their costumes
- and Ð²Ð‚ÑšstrikeÐ²Ð‚Ñœ the set.
- They are again put in handcuffs and ankle chains and begin running in tandem as the siren wails.
- New genre: drama
- Play about political statements
- Two-person play
- Greater interaction between audience and actor
- Takes places over six days
- Slice of lifeÐ²Ð‚Ñœ theatre
2. Sociopolitical Context
- part of three plays called statement plays (against Apartheid legislation):
1. Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (political response, young man forced to break the law to survive)
2. The Island (direct response to banning of ANC and other opposition voices)
3. Statement After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act (against Immorality Act Ð¿Ñ" banning of relationships across racial boundaries
- 1950s: dynamic creativity, art, drama, poetry, etc. Also political activism of overt nature. People burnt their passes. Women marched on parliament. In Johannesburg: in Sophiatown, mixed race ghettoes associated with a group of writers, the Ð²Ð‚Ñšdrum generationÐ²Ð‚Ñœ
- 1960s: Ð²Ð‚ÑšDecade of Silence.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ Politics and Sophiatown change drastically. Capture of Mandela and other political activists. Banning of ANC and PAC. Vision of Ð²Ð‚Ñšwhite areasÐ²Ð‚Ñœ and a Ð²Ð‚Ñšwhite JohannesburgÐ²Ð‚Ñœ Ð¿Ñ" Sophiatown virtually destroyed, turned into white suburb Ð²Ð‚ÑšTriomf.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ Political opposition only underground, cultural voices stifled, many committed suicide, went into exile or just left South Africa.
- 1970s: Early 1970s seemed to be continuation of Ð²Ð‚?60s. Banning of news reports of opposition and overseas, but impossible to silence people completely. Exiled parties and people who were released from the problem tried to let me people know what was happening, but difficult to create literature and art: segregational theatres and restaurants. Act of creating The Island is an act of defiance in itself: different people of different races coming together, monument to defiance of political tyranny, extremely difficult Ð¿Ñ" strategy: no written script until after internationally famous, no evidence, no arrests!
3. The Playwright: Athol Fugard
-Grew up in Port Elizabeth (deeply symbolic place for him.) Lower middle class environment Ð¿Ñ" poor whites of 1930s vs. political conservatives (generalization!) Fugard epitomizes fact that we canÐ²Ð‚™t generalize like this because for five decades, he voiced against racial oppression. Port Elizabeth represents what itÐ²Ð‚™s like to be poor and white in South Africa.
- Scholarship to UCT but never finished his degree, went traveling instead, but always kept in mind his existential philosophy.
(Existentialism: We as humans