Essay on The Island, by Athol Fugard

1261 Words 6 Pages
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.
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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 consciously taken from them when they were transported from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town and Robben Island (a journey of 770 kilometers, almost 480 miles) by vans, in which they were crammed and shackled to each other like animals, unable to refrain from urinating on one another as they traveled. And yet it is their care for one another's wounds that brings forth and
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