36 pages 1 hour read

Athol Fugard

The Road to Mecca

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1985

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Character Analysis

Miss Helen

Helen is an Afrikaner (a specific ethnic group in South Africa) in her late sixties who resides in the town of New Bethesda in South Africa’s Karoo region. She is known as a loner who spends much of her time inside her house and speaks largely only to Katrina, a young African girl, as well as to Elsa and Marius. Most people perceive her isolation to be largely by choice—Marius tells Helen the others in town “behave towards you in the way you apparently want them to, which is to leave you completely alone” (53)—but Helen complains about feeling lonely and without friends. It is also suggested that others in town believe her to be mad. She speaks of “Darkness” and feeling depressed (and, at one point in her letter to Elsa, suicidal) throughout the play, though by the end she has a more accepting view of her solitude and realizes that the “road to my Mecca was one I had to travel alone” (74). Helen’s real-life inspiration died by an apparent suicide, and Helen tells Elsa that she “must teach myself now how to blow [the candles] out…and what that means” (75), suggesting she may face the same end.