36 pages 1 hour read

Athol Fugard

The Road to Mecca

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1985

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Important Quotes

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“The living room and, leading off of it, the bedroom alcove of a house in the small Karoo village of New Bethesda. An extraordinary room by virtue of the attempt to use as much light and color as is humanly possible. The walls—mirrors on all of them—are all of different colors, while on the ceiling and floor are solid, multicolored geometric patterns. Yet the final effect is not bizarre but rather one of light and extravagant fantasy. Just what the room is really about will be revealed later when its candles and lamps—again, a multitude of them of every size, shape and color—are lit. The late afternoon light does, however, give some hint of the magic to come.”

(Act I, Page 1)

These are the stage directions at the start of the play introducing its setting. They introduce us to Helen’s unique home and its “light and color.” Her home becomes a major part of the play and is necessary to understanding Helen as a character.

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“ELSA: If my friends in Cape Town were to have seen that! You must understand, Miss Helen, Elsa Barlow is known as a ‘serious young woman.’ Bit of a bluestocking, in fact. Not much fun there! I don’t know how you did it, Helen, but you caught me with those stockings down from the first day we met. You have the rare distinction of being the only person who can make me a fool of myself…and enjoy it.

HELEN: You weren’t making a fool of yourself. And anyway what about me? Nearly seventy and behaving as if I were seven!

ELSA: Let’s face it, we’ve both still got a little girl hidden away in us somewhere.”

(Act I, Page 5)

Elsa and Helen have this exchange after the two women act out an “arrival game.” It introduces Elsa and her “serious” and “bluestocking” (intelligent/literary) nature, while also demonstrating the special bond between Helen and Elsa, as they can let out their inner “little girls” around each other.

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“I nearly didn’t stop for her. She didn’t signal that she wanted a lift or anything like that. Didn’t even look up when I passed…I was watching her in the rearview mirror. Maybe that’s what told me there was a long walk ahead of her…the way she had her head down and just kept on walking. And then the baby on her back. It was hot out there, Miss Helen, hot and dry and a lot of empty space…There wasn’t a farmhouse in sight. She looked very small and unimportant in the middle of all that. Anyway, I stopped and reversed and offered her a lift. Not very graciously. I’d already been driving for ten hours and all I wanted was to get here as fast as I could. She got in and after a few miles we started talking. Her English wasn’t very good, but when I finally got around to understanding what she was trying to tell me it added up to a good old South African story. Her husband, a farm laborer, had died recently, and no sooner had they buried him when the baas told her to pack up and leave the farm. So there she was…on her way to the Cradock district, where she hoped to find a few distant relatives and a place to live.”

(Act I, Pages 7-8)

Elsa says this to Helen while telling her about her drive to New Bethesda from Cape Town. The story of the woman on the side of the road will become a recurring symbol and talking point throughout the play, as Elsa continues to dwell on it and compares the woman’s life with her own. The story also demonstrates the inherent racial inequality prevalent in South Africa at the time.