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Athol FugardBoesman and LenaLecturer: Dalene LabuschagneMarch 2013
Important notice:These slides form the basic framework for lectures.They do not by any means cover the full content oflecture presentations.Additional reading, on which these lecturepresentations are based, is available on Edulink:• Athol Fugard’s “Introduction” (1974);• “Power, self, and other – the absurd in Boesman andLena,” by Craig W. McLuckie (1993).Please ensure that you have read, and properlyunderstood, these articles.
About the playwright:• Born 11 June 1932 in Middelburgin the Karoo;• Afrikaner mother, English-speakingSouth African father from Irishdescent.• Family moved to Port Elizabethwhen young Athol was three,where he stayed for most of hislife.• Studied philosophy and socialanthropology at UCT for threeyears, left without completingdegree.• Spent six months hitch-hiking upAfrica as far as Sudan, followed bytwo years as a seaman in the FarEast.
• Became involved intheatre after returning toSA;– Met actress, later author,Sheila (neé Meiring) andmarried in 1956;– They founded a theatercompany, the CirclePlayers, in 1957, for whichthey wrote most of thematerial.
• In 1958 they move toJohannesburg;– Fugard finds a job as clerk inFordsburg Native Commissioner’sCourt;– “During my six months in thatCourt Room I saw more sufferingthan I could cope with. I began tounderstand how my countryfunctioned”.• During this time he writes NoGood Friday, working with blackactors who had little or no stageexperience.
• Subsequently becomes astage manager for SouthAfricas National TheatreOrganization and beginswriting plays in earnest.– First real success was TheBlood Knot (1961), a playabout two South Africanhalf-brothers, one black, theother coloured but able topass for white.• Leads to his passport beingwithdrawn.
• Went on to gainworldwide recognitionwith many award-winning plays such as:– Hello and Goodbye (1965)– Boesman and Lena (1969)– Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972)– A Lesson From Aloes(1978)– Master Harold … and theBoys (1982)– My Children! My Africa!(1989)
• intimate, personal portrayalsof tragic events in the lives oftwo or three characters;• often containing mixed casts(black, white, and mixed-racecharacters);• all set against the difficultsocial and politicalenvironment of his nativeSouth Africa.
• He writes in 1974:“Like everyone else in thiscountry, black and white, myhorizons have shrunk, and willcontinue to do so. Today’s futurebarely includes tomorrow. Attimes I see the situationdeteriorating still further, to thepoint where even the thought oftomorrow will be a luxury. I’mtrying to live and work inpreparation for thateventuality.”
• Once apartheid was abolished, in1994, and the long struggle forracial equality in the troubledcountry began a new chapter, hiscareer continued to flourish;– With the help of five young SouthAfrican women, he assembled acollaborative piece called My Life(1996),• their experiences, desires, and fearsabout the new South Africa.– followed by Valley Song (1996),• autobiographical play that extendswell beyond political boundaries.– And the “forgotten” novel, Tsotsi,which forms the source of theaward-winning 2005 film.
Athol Fugard celebrated his 80th birthday lastyear.
Boesman and Lena: context• Fugard first began working onBoesman and Lena in October1967:– Notebook entry 2/10/67• “Boesman – self-hatred and shame,focused on Lena…Love. Desertion.”• First presented in South Africa in1969:– “…I had serious misgivings aboutrunning into trouble with ourCensorship Board…I was lucky”.
Historical context – South Africa during the1960’s:1960:• 21 March – Sharpeville massacre: Police shootand kill an estimated 69 people who were part ofa demonstration against pass laws, in which allblack South Africans needed a passbook to beable to travel about their own land;• 24 March - All public meetings more than 12people are banned, later reduced to meetingsgreater than 3 people;• 8 April - The government bans the AfricanNational Congress and the Pan AfricanistCongress;• 5 October - whites vote in a referendum, to severSouth Africa’s last links with the British monarchyand become a republic.
1961:• 15 March - South Africa withdraws from theCommonwealth;• 31 May - South Africa becomes a republic; C. R. Swartbecomes the first State President;• 16 December - The ANC launches its armed struggle withthe formation of the Umkhonto we Sizwe.1962:• January – Nelson Mandela leaves SA for military trainingwith the Umkhonto we Sizwe;• 5 August – Mandela is arrested after the CIA tipped off thepolice;• October – Lillian Ngoyi is banned for 10 years, confining herto Orlando Township and forbidding her to attend anygatherings;• 13 October – Helen Joseph becomes the first person to beplaced under house arrest under the Sabotage Act;• 6 November – the UN starts sanctions to isolate SApolitically and economically;• A maximum security institution on Robben Island iscompleted.
1963:• 7 August – UN Resolution 181 is passed, callingfor a voluntary arms embargo of SA;• Dorothy Nyembe is arrested for furthering theobjectives of the banned ANC and is sentencedto 3 years in prison.1964:• 31 January - The University Of Port Elizabeth isestablished;• Nelson Mandela’s original 5 year sentence iscommuted for life for high treason in theRivonia Trial.1966:11 February – District Six in Cape Town isdeclared a "White Group Area" by thegovernment – forced removals ensue.
1967:• The Terrorism Act No 83 is passed – the South AfricanPolice starts with counter-insurgency training;• Nine months conscription for all white males start.1968:• 30 April - The bill establishing five universities for Blackscomes into force• The South African Bureau of State Security is formed,operating independently of the South African Police, andaccountable to the Prime Minister.1969:• Dorothy Nyembe is convicted of defeating the end ofjustice by harbouring members of Umkhonto we Sizweand sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in BarbertonPrison.
Forced removalsFor example, District 6 (Cape Town) in 1966:• Relatively cosmopolitan community– mostly coloured residents, substantial number of colouredMuslims, (Cape Malays), some black Xhosa residents and smallernumbers of Afrikaans, whites, and Indians.• 11 February 1966: government declares District Six a whites-only area– removals started in 1968 – relocation to featureless Cape Flats;more than 60,000 people moved by 1982.– All houses were bulldozed, only places of worship left standing.• Government gave four reasons for removals:– interracial interaction bred conflict;– District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation;– Area crime-ridden and dangerous;– the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities likegambling, drinking, and prostitution.
• In Sophiatown, starting on 9February 1955:– 2 000 policemen, armed with guns,rifles, and knobkieries forcefullymoved families to Meadowlands,Soweto;– Total of 60 000 people moved overperiod of eight years.• In Port Elizabeth, starting in 1962:– The whole of the South End district(prime real estate) forciblydepopulated and flattened in 1965;– relocations continued until 1975.
Boesman and Lena: stagingACT ONEAn empty stage.A coloured man – Boesman – walks on…Minimalist staging has a structural as well as a thematicfunction:• Structural• Indeterminacy of place, both physical and social.• Thematic– Fugard, note 13/7/68 (p. xxii): “Sense of terrible physical andspiritual destitution”.– Indeterminacy of identity.
The emptiness is broken bythe gradual construction oftheir pondokkie:• Boesman: We’rewhiteman’s rubbish…Hethrows it away, we pick itup…Sleep in it. Eat it. We’remade of it now.. (Act II,p.41).– Parallels with Lenas Mass’(Act I, p. 35):• transubstantiation perverted,miracle corrupted.• No hope for a ‘better’ life.
Staging – charactersBOESMAN, a Coloured manLENA, a Coloured womanOUTA, an old African• Social stratification:• White character(s) absent, yet looming large in dialogue, andin context.• Stereotypical images of people on fringes of society:• By resorting to stereotypes, Fugard emphasizes the plight ofthe downtrodden;• ‘ciphers’ of suffering (ref. Fugard’s notes).
Boesman and Lena: the structureFrontispiece reads:BOESMAN AND LENAA PLAYIN TWO ACTS
The idea of duality informs, and isreinforced by, the structure of the play:Boesman and LenaMale FemaleSelf Othercaught between-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Oppression / /Freedom-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------White/ /Black-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Coming (here, now)/ /Going (there, then)
NOTE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TERM‘OPPOSITION’ AND THE TERM ‘DUALITY’:• ‘Opposition’ = conflict;= either/or.• ‘Duality” = conditionof beingtwofold;= both apartand part of
The first speech in the play is Lena’s:“Here?”• “Here” is the mud-flats of theEastern Cape:– “Mud! Swartkops!” (Act I, p.3).• It is a place between leaving andarriving:– Lena: I meet the memory of myself onthe old roads…Is she coming or going?(Act I, p. 29).• It is a liminal space where allmeaningful action has ceased:– Boesman [after a pause]: And now?What’s going to happen now?Lena: Is something going to happennow? (Act II, p.49).
Liminality• From the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold” :– a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjectivestate, conscious or unconscious, of being on the"threshold" of or between two different existential planes;– used to refer to in-between situations and conditions thatare characterized by• the dislocation of established structures,• the reversal of hierarchies, and• uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and futureoutcomes.• The term has passed from neuropsychology intobroad popular usage:– liminality can be applied to a variety of concrete problemsof transformation in the historical, social, and politicalworld;– Also a literary application.
Liminality:– a psychological subjective state, betweentwo different existential planes:• Lena: …I’m moeg! Eina! *…+Boesman [aggressively]: I’m always happy.(Act I, p.5).• Fugard’s notes, 23/7/68: “Image is that whichreleases an emotional and psychologicalcomplex in an instant of time” (p. xxiii).– Image of Boesman and Lena walking, neverrealized as action, caught in freeze-framebetween one step and the next.– McLuckie, 1993: 2; ‘walking’ for Godot.– Continual references to walking juxtaposedwith the sense of their going nowhere;emphasizes futility of their existence.
Liminality:– a metaphysical subjective statebetween two different existentialplanes:• Boesman and Lena are coloured, neitherblack nor white:– Lena [speaking to Outa]: …Not like yourdances… *and+ we don’t tickle it like thewhite people. (Act II, p. 44).– Lena’s song: Boesman is ‘n Boesman/Maar hydra ‘n Hotnot hoed (Act I, p. 13; Act II, p.44).• Lena’s Mass (ref. Fugard’s notes, 23/8/68,p. xxiv) in last lines of act one:– An act of transubstantiation, secularized:Lena: …old mug, hey. Bitter tea, a piece ofbread. Bitter and brown. The bread shouldhave bruises. This is my life.
Liminality:– Characterized by the dislocation of established structures:• Forced removal, repeated destruction of their pondokkie;• Apartheid (Act II, p. 43).– Characterized by the reversal of hierarchies:• Cosmopolitan settlements like District Six and South End declared‘whites only’ areas.– Characterized by uncertainty regarding the future:• Lena’s confusion regarding their past travels;– “Look ahead my sister. To what? Boesman’s back” (Act I, p.7).• Lena: Is something going to happen now? (Act II, p.49);• Fugard’s notes, 26/12/68: “How do I align myself with a future, apossibility, in which I believe but of which I have no clear image?”– Absurd, in other words.• “…absurdity as a condition resulting from the human powerstructures that govern life, not as the condition of life itself”(McLuckie, 1993: 7).
The character of Lena:• Composite figure (ref Fugard’s notes):– 6/7/68: A Lena on the banks of the Swartkops River…– 13/7/68: Memory of another Coloured Woman…• “Lena is preoccupied with uncovering her identity,which she believes is held in her past and in an othersrecognition of her” (McLuckie, 1993: 3):– “I’ll work it out, back and back until I reach Coega Kop” (ActI, p. 14).– Her attachment to Hond: “I’ll tell you what it is. Eyes, Outa.Another pair of eyes. Something to see you” (Act I, p. 26).– “Look back one day, Boesman. It’s me, that thing you sleepalong the roads” (Act 1, p. 8).– She tells Outa: “You be witness to me. Watch!” (Act I, p. 24).• To “watch” is also the function of the audience;• Ref. Fugard’s notes, 6/7/68: “…the demand that the truth be told,that I must not bear false witness.”
Lena “demand*s+ that her life be witnessed”(Fugard, 1974: xxiii):• “…Lena craves a witness to her existencethrough Boesman” (McLuckie, 1993: 2).• Focus on absurdity of existence in such aliminal space;– “I’m still out there, walking!” (Act 1, p. 7)• Impacts on Lena’s sense of identity (Act1,pp. 16-17):– Lena: Help me Boesman!Boesman: What? Find yourself?*…+ Who are you?Lena: Mary. I want to be Mary.• Biblical connotations (link to Lena’s Mass);• McLuckie, 1993: 2: “Lena…seeks a definition ofher being.”• Lena’s words: Moer. No.
The character of Boesman:Ref. Fugard’s notes:• 2/10/67: “Boesman – self-hatred and shame, focused onLena…” *the other+;• 19/7/68: “…What he really hates is himself.”He has no sense of his place in the world, despite his claims:• “I know my way. I know my world” (Act I, 19).In this liminal position, “Boesman…can be said to spurn hisidentity and falsely attempt to assume another to (re)gain asense of dignity, albeit in the discourse and practicesprevalent in the white scale of values, not his own”(McLuckie, 1993:2).• [Boesman starts to smash the shelter with methodical andcontrolled violence.]Lena: Hotnot bulldozer! Hey, hey! (Act II, p. 55)
“Boesman…fears an encounter with his self becausehis false sense of identity might be brought intoquestion” (McLuckie, 1993: 3).• Boesman [emphatically]: Here! Right here where Iam (Act I, p. 7).• Lena: Mary. I want to be Mary. Who are you?[The laugh dies on Boesman’s lips.] (Act I, p. 17).But he, like Lena, needs his life to be witnessed:• Boesman: I did nothing to him. You saw that.Lena: Now you want a witness too. (Act II, p. 51).Boesman’s words:• Lena: You got some words tonight, Boesman.Freedom. Truth. What’s that? Sies? (Act II, p. 51)
Outa as a function:• Witness to Boesman and Lena’sexistence, but his life and deathare as unintelligible as hiswords:– Emphasis on absurdity of liminalsocial status.• Represents playwright, as wellas audience:– No guarantee that Boesman andLena’s plight is fully understood;– Personalizes their experience, yetproblematizes issues surroundingtheir identity.
The ending of the playAt the end of the play Boesman becomesuncharacteristically generous, giving a detailedaccount of their past travels to Lena:• Boesman: Redhouse to Missionvale…I worked on thesalt pans. Missionvale to Bethelsdorp. Back again toRedhouse…that’s where the child died. Then toKleinskool. Kleinskool to Veeplaas. Veeplaas to here.First time. After that, Redhouse…Bethelsdorp,Korsten, Veeplaas, back here the second time. ThenMissionvale again, Veeplaas, Korsten, and then here,now.*…+Lena: It doesn’t explain anything.(Act II, p. 56).
Yet they take up their burden and continue:• [They look around for the last time, then turnand walk off into the darkness.]Ambiguous: their endless, pointless journeyingwill continue, but with a newfound sense ofhope despite the absurdity of their existence:Lena: Anyway, somebody saw a little bit. Dogand a dead man [and the audience].*…+You still got a chance. Don’t lose it.
Theme/s• Displacement• Alienation IDENTITY/SELFHOOD• Liminality (absurdity)The play considers the tragic loss of an integratedself in an unjust society, where absurdity is acondition that results from the human powerstructures that govern life.