Writing In A State Of Siege English Literature Essay
The ten years between 1948 and 1958 recorded the bustle and disturbance of social life and exhibited the necessity and possibility of a united fight against racial discrimination. The wide spread resentment at the pass-laws, liquor raids and inadequate amenities in 1950 resulted in the suppression of ‘Communism Act’. The word ‘communist’ it self meant ‘unlawful’. In 1952, eight thousand people were imprisoned for opposing the apartheid regulations. Chief Albert Luthuli, the President General of the African National Congress was banned for his commitment to a democratic and inter-racial future in South Africa.
Things were in oblivion and in 1958, as the whites did not require any permits, the Fugards were advised to go to Sophiatown, a ‘freehold township’, a place which combined magic and smut, respectability and crime, black and white and the most ‘lively and crowded’ of all the African townships, where the blacks and the whites could move freely, with certain social constraints.
As Jurger Schadeberg observes,
“There was poverty in Sophiatown. There were areas that were somewhat slummy. There were gangs. There were crime and there were cutthroats, but it was a real suburb. It had all the facilities a normal suburb has. Whereas when people moved to Orlando or Meadowlands, or whatever, there was nothing there. Sophiatown was romanticized afterwards. Sophiatown was a symbol because it was a place where people were not mixed than in other places. And people owned their own property.” (Schadeberg, 2002: 111-112)
Sophiatown was predominantly black and also predominantly poor. The greater part of Sophiatown was a sickening slum. As Don Mattera observes ‘the little Chicago of Johannesburg’ was essentially known for its cosmopolitan flavor and every conceivable space was occupied by a living thing – man or animal’. (Mattera 1987:49). Derek Cohen also observes,
“The small corner of the world, the all but forgotten township of the 1950s, Sophiatown, teems with the variety and vivacity of the world itself. Deep in the bowels of this house of hunger, where men and women tread a diurnal mill of deprivation and indignity, lie, as Fugard reminds us, humanity and strength”3.(1984:273-284))
The township also had a surprisingly stunning intellectual atmosphere as the black journalists were trying to express their feelings. Jim Bailey’s Drum magazine covered the township life. Drum ran articles almost every month, reporting on crime figures, the circumstances forcing ordinary citizens into a life of crime, and the shebeen culture, which fed these offences.
Benjamin Pogrund, a liberal friend of the Fugards advised Fugard that he would find the right atmosphere in Sophiatown for his play.
The only job Fugard could find was that of a clerk in a Native Commissioner’s Court where offenders of the pass-laws were tried. The cruel conditions gave birth to his pessimism and his earlier incomplete novel (Tsotsi) found its voice in the two plays of his apprenticeship years, No-Good Friday and Nongogo which represented the travails of the black township.
Though they were his early plays and though they lacked the ‘dramatic charm and vision’ of his later plays, they indicate the struggling mind of Fugard to represent his stance as a dramatist. If No Good Friday projects the impact of bad economic conditions on the individuals who aspire for better social conditions and education, Nongogo reflects the aspirations of the people who dream for better living and individual dignity. These two early plays belong to the formative stage of Fugard’s maturity as a dramatist.
No-Good Friday and Nongogo both represent the apartheid trauma of the South African Society. An exploration (Gray,1981:56-63) into the manuscripts of the first novel of Fugard, (which he threw into the Fiji lagoon) Tsotsi, which was published in 1980, reveals Fugard’s anxiety during his apprenticeship years to present the problems within the existing conditions. Fugard’s early plays, No-Good Friday and Nongogo also share some of the aspects of Tsotsi as they were set against the same milieu. Stephen Gray5(1981:56) feels that the characters of Tsotsi appeared in the subsequent plays of Fugard – like The Blood Knot, Hello and Goodbye, People Are Living There, Boesman and Lena and in many of his plays written during the 1970s.
Fugard presents the burning zeal of an incipient black revolutionary against the exploitation faced by the blacks in No-Good Friday (1958). This play works at two levels – at the surface level, it appears to be a mere representation of the conditions of the blacks; but at deeper levels, it records the helplessness of the blacks in the face of exploitation by their own fellow men during the conditions of the apartheid. Fugard presents the oppressive politics working on the life of the township in various forms.
Crime by African against African was an everyday reality in Sophiatown. For example an article in the November 1951 issue of Drum, ‘The Birth of a Tsotsi’, describes the classic circumstances under which “a young boy takes the wrong turning”: “With grinding poverty and the sea of squalor that surrounds the ‘Gold City’, it is not difficult to understand the rest. There is a struggle for existence, and the individual intends to survive.”
Fugard records this struggle in a naturalistic manner in his early plays like No-Good Friday and Nongogo.
Willie Seopela, the independent and stubborn protagonist is an aspiring youngman and he stays with Rebecca, his lady love. Willie, an intellectual in the making, with hopes for a brighter and better living, is a student pursuing his undergraduate studies through correspondence. He represents the image of the desperately stubborn black young men of South Africa. Despite hard circumstances, Willie is optimistic and highly independent. He is liked by Father Higgins, the white humanist who visits the black ghettos to offer solace. Father Higgins introduces Tobias, an innocent villager, who comes to Sophiatown for a better living, to Willie and asks him to fix him somewhere, as he is badly in need of money for his living. Willie, aware of the catastrophic situation that awaits black people in the township, asks Tobias not to entertain big dreams. He does not make any promise to Tobias.
The residents of the black township are frequently nagged by Shark, a black gangster who appears every Friday, the day of their weekly payment. The innocent residents ought to offer a share from their pay packets either to Shark or similar other gangsters in trains and on roads. They cannot even make a complaint against them to the police, for, they do not have the ‘pass-books’ to stay in that town. In a way, they buy their ‘protection’ from Shark, their fellow black South African.
Even the independent Willie makes a passive living allowing the share for Shark from his Friday’s pay-packet. Tobias, unaware of these facts innocently argues about the share and gets killed in the hands of Shark. It is only after the death of Tobias, Willie realises the gravity of the situation, the result of their passive attitude and decides to oppose Shark in spite of the murderous consequences. In the process, he sacrifices his love for Rebecca. The play ends with Willie getting prepared for the challenge.
The play projects a story of loss of relationships, loss of values and loss of security or protection in the white repressive world.
Willie, the protagonist condemns the situation in Johannesburg and very often he appears to be the mouth-piece of Fugard. We are frequently reminded of the life-situation described in Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy ,Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and Alex La Guma’s A Walk in the Night and And a Threefold Cord. Life is not easy there and it has become unbearable, as observed by Father Higgins, a character in No Good Friday. The grim situation of an unprotected life is summed up by Guy very well. Speaking about Shark, he says:
“Don’t you understand? He’s got shares in the police station. . . . . . You can forget about the police. They protect a fellow like Shark. You see they are only interested in our passes. But a Kaffir laying a charge against a criminal-that would be a joke. We are all criminals. Look, Father, do not be hard on us. You know what I have just said better than any other white”8. (1977: 146)
As in The Blood Knot and other plays here too Fugard arranges his scenes and the protagonist to present the conditions which reflect their predicament. Asked by Guy to explain their ‘sad life’, Willie says that the music of their life is a song of ‘melancholy, loneliness and despair’ (1977:125) and this is reflected in every scene, every chapter and every dialogue.
The play portrays the hard realities of the life in Sophiatown, especially on Friday, which is a ‘fertile acre for troubles’ (1977:126). Father Higgins, though aware of the all pervading nature of sorrow, expresses his helplessness when Willie asks him if he wants “to plant a daffodil” in his yard.
As Don Mattera describes:
‘The ghetto-like township was unpredictable and dangerous. There were times of searching for a loved one in some alley; finding him or her wounded in a hospital or jail, or dead in a morgue. Or checking for husband or father, a brother or a son who had never returned home from work. Or waiting for a mother, an aunt or sister who did not get off the bus or tram where you usually waited for them. Then the anguish and anxiety that would follow reports of a woman raped, beaten and robbed by the jobless and won’t work brigades of tsotsis who owned the days and ruled the nights.'(1987:50)
No-Good Friday portrays all these problems in Sophiatown, – absence of care by the government, unemployment, frustration, poverty, insecurity, gangsterism, evils of pass-laws, broken bonds of love and the ‘cheapness'() of life seen through the lives of various characters. Despite the hard work, they can hardly reach homes safely with their Friday pay-packets. Reflecting the problems of township life, the play is presented in the back yard of Willie and it indicates their poverty amidst iron shacks. The play has black as well as white characters, like Father Higgins, who resembles Rev. Trevor Huddleston, who made a crusade against the stringent laws of the apartheid in the townships. It also records the migration of the innocent youth to the townships to find employment. The play records the raging gangsterism, a social evil, an oppression by the notoriously stronger ones, which has no opposition. It also shows how the underprivileged ones are victimised. The race-laws worsen the conditions of living and the Group Areas Act had restricted the blacks in the name of the pass-books. The pass laws had been a permanent threat to the African people. As observed by Edward Roux:
“The pass laws held the people in conditions of abject poverty and subjection Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ were the cause of sharp racial friction between the peoples of South Africa upheld the cheap labour system which resulted in malnutrition, starvation and disease and filled gaols with innocent people, thus creating wide-spread crime”19.(1964:320).
Fugard also projects the hidden social angle – the White police man’s ‘hidden understanding’ with the black gangsters like Shark.
Speaking about the crime of Sophiatown Bloke Modisane writes,
“I learned there in Sophiatoown,that one looked at the killing and never at the faces of the killers; one also knew that the law is white and justice casual, that it could not protect us against the knives of Sophiatown, so we tolerated the murders whilst the law encouraged them with its indifference”.( 1986:63)
The residents of Sophiatown cannot approach the police, who are obviously on the side of law. The blacks continue their ‘survival’ in hellish conditions. These and similar conditions are portrayed in a more powerful manner in Sizwe Bansi is Dead.
If Tsotsi traces both gangsterism and the realisation on the part of the protagonist in a single individual, No-Good Friday projects the evils of gangsterism through Shark and the realisation appears in the protagonist, Willie.
Having understood the significance of life and the way it is being shattered in Sophiatown, Willie mourns over the misery of their lives and the impossibility of living. He realizes that life is not a fairy tale with a happy ending. The absurdity of living forces him not only to be away from Rebecca but from his own life itself. To make his life more purposeful and less mundane, he wants to oppose Shark by informing the police. His dreams of “living happily ever after” get shattered and he says:
“Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â¦.I gave up dreaming. Tobias reminded me of too much, Guy. He was going to make some money and live happily ever after. Thecosy little dreamÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ like this, Willie and Rebecca lived happily ever after! That’s how the fairy stories end and it’s stupid because, out there is life and it is not ending happily”14. (1977:155)
He feels that life is vain and useless without a protest against the problem. He blames the individuals within his society including himself for allowing such problems.
Willie’s opposition to Shark and the words of the cunning politician Watson project Fugard’s anger against such conditions. When life becomes dreadful and unprotected, it becomes meaningless. The death of Willie is not the end of the sequence, but it makes a bold beginning of opposition against gangsterism. It is also the frustration and struggle for a better life.
The action of the play takes place between two Fridays and the play carries various emotions like humour, satire, shame, anger, frustration and tragedy, the representative feelings of an ‘impoverished, fragmented and violent society20. (Sheila Fugard: 1993:408).Watson, the politician stands as a satirical portrait of the township’s black politicians, who demand a sacrifice from the innocent blacks, for their own betterment. The ironical dedication of the song of Guy, Friday Night Blues itself speaks about the theme of the play. Shark, the gangster with a significant name swallows people like Tobias and ironically praises those who pay him regularly. The play brings out the fact that the people of the township should not have “cosy” dreams about comfortable living.
Going against the tradition of depicting the gangsters from the romantic viewpoint, as was done by other writers of his time, Fugard presents Shark, the gangster, as a cruel reality. As observed by Don Mattera,
No story about gangsterism or violence in the townships of Johannesburg can be complete without that of ‘Kort Boy’- real name George Mbalweni – the five-foot-nothing knifeman from Benoni, a former mining town on the East Rand near JohannesburgÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Kort Boy was a legend in his day much hated , much loved – it all depended on which end of knife you were at”.(1987:102)
Characters in No-Good Friday are many, representing the unlimited problems of his society. Each character stands for a problem. Fugard does not offer any solution but he represents things as they are, for an understanding of what was going on in South Africa. As a symphathising white liberal he expresses his sense of helplessness in the wake of events and the act of writing itself becomes an act of courage and commitment as an individual and as a writer. Despite the removal of the apartheid condition, they enjoy their validity, for, these plays stand as records of the 1950s. Fugard brings out his message best – the problem of ‘survival’ in the wake of hopelessness, dejection and destruction.
No Good Friday had its premiers on 30th August 1958 after ten years of the initiation of apartheid in South Africa on the primitive stage of the ‘Bantu Men’s Social Centre’ and Fugard was praised by the African monthly ‘Zonk’ for giving his unknown actors, a wonderful opportunity to show their talents. Apart from the shows in ‘Bantu Men’s Social Centre, the play was also staged amidst church walls in the townships, to black audiences and in the White suburbs. Fugard was refused permission to see even the productions he directed. During the run of No-Good Friday Fugard established friendship with important directors like Barney Simon and Tone Brulin. Not only to the actors, but to the people (both blacks and whites) of Sophiatown, it offered a scope to see themselves and their problems on the stage.
Although the play has its own technical faults, as observed by critics -like heavy plotting, unlimited characters etc, the play brings out the shaping mind of Fugard as a dramatist with social concerns. The characters apart from representing the troubled people of South Africa become potential images – if Willie, Tobias, Rebecca and Guy stand as the victims, Shark and Watson stand as the wicked political images of the cruel exterior of South Africa. The repeated use of the ‘fairy-tale’ image with its reference to the impossibility of comfortable life speaks about the predicament of the life of the blacks in South Africa under the pressure of the cruel racist law.
Fugard does not present this drama as a mere piece of entertainment. It is a realistic document about the sorrowful living of the black people of Sophiatown who “suffer from inter-and intra-racial oppression”. Fugard recognises that to be black in South Africa is to be poor, and that black existence is imbued with the struggle to find release from the cycle of poverty and the mean quality of life indigence creates. (Albert Wertheim:) It provokes us to think and Fugard makes his observations and statements come alive through the characters he brings on to the stage. As observed by Sheila Fugard19, the germinative ideas of a nascent playwright got fortified in his later plays like The Blood Knot, Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, The Island, “Master Harold”…and the boys.
Fugard incorporates his intellectual and individual stances of rebellion in Willie the black protagonist. Through him, he voices out his feeling, which necessitate the reason for opposition against the dreadful forces like gangsterism which bear the impact of several cruel racist laws; but according to Nkosi, the play ‘had very little concern with the politics behind the chronic violence and gangsterism in the ghetto’. (Vandenbroucke,Russell).
Nkosi feels this as a limitation. On the other hand, white writers like Alan Paton and Fugard had observed moderation in depicting their conditions. As analysed by Albert Wertheim ‘it was their moderation that drew world attention to the outrages of apartheid’. The final speech of Willie is universal in its appeal, as it explains the reasons for the birth and growth of such evil forces within a society. By making the apartheid tragedy ‘ACT’ on the stage, Fugard has achieved the theatrical and political meaning of two words – ‘acting’ and ‘imagination’.
‘Although Fugard sets many of his plays in South Africa and more specifically in Port Elizabeth, he is not writing specifically South African tragedy, for he uses his South African setting and this presentation of South African life under apartheid rule to define a tragic situation imbued with meaning far beyond the geographical boundaries of South Africa’.21 (Albert Wertheim)
The play is not restricted to South Africa alone; it appeals to the living conditions of all common people who live in poverty ridden slums and ghettos of all parts of the world. As observed by Albert Wertheim, the play is set against a realistic background-it is a statement against oppression, a feature that is found everywhere in the world.
Schadeberg,Jurger(ed).2002. Intervies, Johannesburg 15 March 2002:105-108(Transcript)
Mattera,Don.1987.Gone with the twilight: A Story of Sophiatown. London,Zed Books.
3.Derek Cohen, “Beneath the Underworld: Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi”, World Literature Written in English, Vol. 23, No.2, (1984) 273-84.
4. Stephen Gray, “The Coming into the print of Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi”, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XVI, No.1 (1981) pp 56-63.
6. Athol Fugard, “No-Good Friday, Dimetos and Two Early Plays”, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977. All subsequent references are to this edition.
7. No – Good Friday, p 144.
8. ibid, 146.
9. ibid, 152.
10. ibid, 152.
11. ibid, 154.
12. ibid, 155.
13.Modisane,Bloke.1996.Blame Me on History, Goodwood,Western Cape: A.D.Donker
14. ibid, 155.
15. ibid, 160.
16. Albert Wertheim
17. No – Good Friday, p 155
19. Edward Roux, Time longer than Rope, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Winconsin Press, 1964) p. 320; Quoted by Mbulalo Vizikhungo Mzamane, “Sharpeville and its Aftermath: The novels of Richard Rive, peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma and Lauretta Ngcobo”, Ariel, Vol. 16, No. 2, April 1985, pp. 30-44.
20. Sheila Fugard, “The Apprenticeship Years”, Twentieth Century Literature, Ed. By Jack Barbera, Vol. 39, No.4, Win 1993, p. 408.
22. Albert Wertheim
23. Russell, Vandenbroucke, Truths the Hand can Touch, p.
24. Albert Wertheim,
Like No-Good Friday, Nongogo also, but in a different way exposes the travails of the black people in Sophiatown. It exposes the anguish of the women who ran shebeens for livelihood and who longed for ‘decency’, though impossible. If Willie of No-Good Friday gets ready to face death with existential courage, Queeny of Nongogo laughs in the face of indecency and shame after a stubborn struggle against them. Nongogo, like No Good Friday also deals with the external and internal aspects of the troubled individuals against the backdrop of troubled economic conditions and suppressive rule.
The unique quality of Sophiatown was further enhanced by its shebeen culture. Although blacks were not allowed to drink in the 1950s, they were not stopped by the prohibition. The Sophiatown shebeens sold illegal booze, both store-bought ‘European liquor’ as well as home brewed skokian. But the shebeens were not merely informal drinking clubs. They were homely places where everyone knew each other. As apartheid ceased to exist, intellectuals like Can Themba, Nat Nkasa and others used to spread circles of literature in these shebeens. As Anthony Samson recalls:
The shebeens, however, were another story. Here was what Nat Nakasa called that ‘noble institution’, those ‘hospitable homes’. Here was a place outside of apartheid as the names reflected: Back O’the Moon, Cabin in the Sky, Little Heaven, The Sanctuary, Kind Lady.”(Nicol: 1991:97)
Modisane recalls how his mother, after the death of his father, was forced to become shebeen queen in order to keep body and soul together. Her customers, he remembers, drank for one reason only – to get drunk, as for them, “getting drunk was a purposeful destruction of the pain of their lies, a drowsing of themselves in this orgiastic expenditure. They were breaking out, escaping from themselves”. (1986:39)
The bad economic conditions forced the black women to take up beer-brewing and shebeens to support their families and to send their children to schools.
Apart from the naturalistic portrayal, Fugard’s play focuses light on the hidden ugliness of evil economic backdrop. As observed by Gerald Weales (1978:) ‘both plays deal with the enervating force of the black situation in South Africa, but they do not so directly as an agitprop would. As in the novels of Peter Abrahams we watch shebeens, drunkards, squalor, hunger, and prostitution- as results of oppression. Dennis Walder(1993:414) in ‘The Genesis of the Township plays’ observes:
“The Sophiatown plays nevertheless reflected the aspirations, violence, and vitality of urban black people,offering a window into the world of the correspondent student, Shebeen Queen, Tsotsi (gangster) and rural migrant for predominantly white, liberal audiences.They may now also be seen to have helped to legitimate everyday urban black experience – the experience of the majority of South Africans – as a subject, for blacks as well as whites”.
Nongogo presents the conflict between hope and despair, the celebration of life in all its beauty and the devalued existence without virtues. As observed by Russell Vandenbroucke ‘Nongogo is a play about the actuality of the past and forlorn hopes for the future’ (: 22). The conflict is the result of victimisation. The play has two acts-with the first act getting prepared for decency and respectability, the second act plays a dirge upon the death of these two qualities – decency and respectability. The play as a whole exposes the guilt-racked victims of South Africa in both physical and psychological terms. Their ‘physical destruction’ culminates in their ‘psychological crisis’, where their souls wail with the anguish for being the victims of the rough exterior of South African society.
The play Nongogo exposes two individuals who experience such angst and a sense of guilt. Both of them are spoiled by social conditions of South Africa. Johnny is badly used by the masochistic, sex-starved mine workers and Queeny-is exploited by the carnal appetite of the South African ‘masculinity’, during her fight to ‘eke out a living’. Both of them dream for ‘betterment’ -for a life of ‘decency and respectability’ which remain to be dreams-the dreams of impossibility. Johnny and Queeny both stand as the physical images of destruction of the psychological ‘self’. Like La Guma’s A Walk in the Night this play projects the ‘brutalisation’ that has corroded the moral faculties of the poor.(1973:55)
As Fugardxx himself observes, man is more concerned about ‘hunger’ – physically and mentally. Johnny and Queeny become the victims of the hunger of loins and of the poor conditions of the neglected lot. There are other characters like Sam, Blakie and Patrick, who make a parasitic living and work against decency; and who are also in a way, the helpless victims of the poor conditions which can not be bettered, and they in turn victimise their fellow beings-Johnny and Queeny and their dreams of better living for their selfish purposes. The process of victimisation here as in No Good Friday, is the result of both the internal and external aspects of South Africa.
Queeny, a nongogo – a woman for two and six- the proprietress of a shebeen gets enthused by the arrival and speech of an unexpected salesman Johnny at her door-step. His mode of address makes her feel that she should regain her lost sense of decency. His legitimate living makes her think of dispensing with her shebeen and make a cleaner life with a sense of ‘decency and respectability’ which remain to be dreams- the dreams of impossibility. Her ‘trust’ in Johnny encourages her to start a legitimate cloth-business. Her idea of legitimacy creates distaste in Sam, her business partner and her earlier pimp and Blackie, her attendant.
With the help of Patrick, a way-ward drunkard, Sam and Blackie spoil the mind of Johnny by sowing the seeds of suspicion. Johnny and Queeny come face to face and compelled by Johnny, Queeny unwillingly digs into her past and in this process, hates Johnny for his inability to understand a woman’s heart. The play ends with Queeny re-opening the shebeen.
Fugard has taken care in portraying the character of Queeny. Her desire for better life with a sense of decency and her despair for not finding it form the crux of the plot.
If No-Good Friday presents the process of victimization on the physical plane, dealing with the death of Tobias and of Willie, Nongogo deals with the same process, on the mental plane, indicating the death of the self, when there is the sense of guilt and helpless acceptance of the past life of ‘filth’. The crisis of Johnny and Queeny, the victims of the South African society gets interiorized in Nongogo. As Robert M. Post observes, in other plays of Fugard too we find these victims(1985:3-16). Morris and Zachariah in The Blood Knot, Frieda and Errol in the Statements; John and Winston, the political brothers in The Island; Gumboot Dhalami in Tsotsi; Sizwe Bansi in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead; Boesman and Lena in Boesman and Lena; Piet in A Lesson from Aloes and the title character of Dimetos-all of them have been victims in various ways.
Queeny’s curiosity in shaping her life as she had wanted gets shattered. She stands helplessly alone before her own life, a testament of time, as a victim of circumstances. Her disappointment as a living being against past, present and future life is made explicit through the use of two images indicating time – the singing wall-clock and the wrist watch. Fugard very keenly exhibits the absurdity of human living against the unchanging nature of time in the South African context. Johnny and Queeny remain as the victims of their conscience.
The two plays Nongogo and No-Good Friday exhibit the emotional involvement of Athol Fugard in the problems of the township. The pathetic predicament of man and woman in the South African townships comes alive on the stage. Fugard displays no political purpose in his portrayal of the characters in this play. His artistic involvement as a writer and his personal reaction as a liberal individual made him represent them in a realistic manner. As he observes No-Good Friday and Nongogo are “inflated verse dramas by a liberally-informed white”-but both the plays are in prose. (Quoted by Russell, Vandenbroucke, THCT, p.25) The gold mines stand as a contrasting back drop to represent the cruel exterior of South Africa. As in No-Good Friday, in this play too, we find the process of victimization. Johnny and Queeny stand as the victims of external conditions with a battered conscience and shattered inner self.
Johnny’s extreme craving for ‘pure life’ makes him blind to his circumstances. He fails to treat Queeny as a human being like himself with a yearning for perfection and for a life of decency. Queeny dominates the whole scene with her knowledge of life and an awareness of the nature of men. Her shrewd thinking and her mature opinions about womanhood against the backdrop of her unfortunate murky past as a ‘nongogo’ elevate her.
“There is now. But there was a time I thought I had all I wanted when I got this. But when I had it that was the end. There has been times I never knew what day it was in hereÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ and I never needed to know. I’d wake up and think is it Monday or Tuesday, be Friday? It did not make any difference. Giving it a name did not make it any different from the rest. ” (p.91)
She exhibits a dignity in the climactic scene when she is found re-opening the doors of her shebeen. Her poor conditions had made her a ‘nongogo’; her desire for betterment made her think of the life of ‘decency and respectability’ and the presence of Johnny had made her once again the Queeny of shebeen. Her resurrection as the proprietress of shebeen makes her a tragic figure.
She bursts out:
“What do you think I’ve been doing for five years? It had ended Johnny, it was dead and buried when you walked in here. But you won’t let it stay that way, will you? You’d be worse than Sam, who just sighs when he passes the grave. You’ve dug it up. You’ve performed a miracle, Johnny. The miracle of Jesus and Dead body you’ve brought it back to life. The warmth of your hate, the breath of your disgust had got it living again. I’m not too old . . . not too fat . . . even you looked at me like you never looked at another woman. God’s put a lot of streets I’ve not walked, lampposts I’ve not stood under, faces I’ve not smiled at.” (p.114)
Economic and social conditions in apartheid South Africa, – the indecent shebeens, the travails and failures of young men to make a decent and cleaner living, the filth of the compounds and the helpless drunkards – these features of the township form the milieu. They cannot be changed because they are unavoidable. They are their sources of living, entertainment and worlds of relaxation. Middlemen and politicians like Sam of Nongogo and Watson of No-Good Friday get benefited from such conditions and they do not even think of a change.
People make a living in spite of hating themselves, their conditions and even one another. Queeny hates her life, Sam and also Blackie. She hates even Johnny when he fails to realize her stature and her helplessness. Johnny hates himself, hates Queeny and the world. Blackie and Sam hate Johnny. Life in the township is without any charm. As said by Willie of No-Good Friday, it is never a ‘fairy – tale’. It is full of hatred. Legitimacy has no room either in life or in the modes of living. A rotten condition of life is prevalent everywhere.
Fugard does not intend to offer any message in the portrayal of the lives of his characters. His aim is to portray the tragedy of the Sophiatown people and the ‘boot of oppression’ heavily lying upon them. He has just presented the human story and as he says, ‘propaganda has taken care of itself’. (The New York Times, December, 1974). The life of the township and its underworld has its echoes in many of the novels of the South African writers like Alex La Guma and James Ambrose Brown. The play exhibits the total involvement of the writer as an individual and as a writer. Every aspect of their life is covered. His later plays like Sizwe Bansi and Master Harold recorded these conditions in a more sophisticated way. As observed by Russell, Vandenbroucke, (Quote from p. 24) Truths the Hand can Touch,
“Nongogo and No-Good Friday both concentrate on “exotic” aspects of township life. The theme of individual enterprise and upward mobility is central to both. So is the distinction between dreams and reality. Yet assumptions about the relationship between man and his society are very different. Many of the characters Fugard creates in the years ahead are also concerned with their parts. Several attempt to escape it. Unlike Johnny and Queeny, however, the lives of future characters are never again so contingent upon social and environmental imperatives as opposed to metaphysical and cosmic ones”.
Apart from the portrayal of characters as living images there are several verbal and ‘object’ images in the play delineating the conditions of the township. The compounds stand as the images of destruction. The shebeen itself reflects the past life of Queeny and her much cherished ‘decent home’ proves only to be a dream. ‘Life’ in the South African society itself becomes an image to show the helpless existence of man. ‘The broken pieces of glass’ stand for the shattered life of Queeny and she expects that Johnny would ‘take it apart and put it’ together with a few improvements’ (p. 79). The ‘singing wall clock’ of the past and the ‘wrist watch’ of the present stand as symbols of ‘unchanged’ and ‘unchanging’ time. The singing wall-clock reminds her of her past monotonous life as a Nongogo and the wrist watch, which she wanted to present to Johnny as a ‘surprise’ has nothing to say about her future dreams. All the ‘colours’ that occur in the ‘conversations’ reflect the moods of Queeny and Johnny. The ‘filth’ which Johnny hates so frequently is both external and internal. Sam’s comparison of Queeny to a ‘bone chewed by dogs’ indicates the image of debased womanhood in the township life. The image of the ‘ripe-apples with worms inside’ indicates the rotten condition of the life in Sophiatown. Like No-Good Friday, Nongogo too displays the protest against ‘oppression’ that works against survival and if viewed from Queeny’s shattered angle, it is the protest against ‘oppression against womanhood’. As observed by Dennis Walder, the central theme of these plays is ‘survival’, which is a key to an understanding of their life in the township. (2003: )