36 pages 1 hour read

Athol Fugard

The Road to Mecca

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1985

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Individual, Racial, and Artistic Freedom Versus Oppression

The Road to Mecca explores the notion of freedom in several different ways throughout the play—most notably, through the character of Helen and her decision to eschew “normal” life in her conservative, church-driven town, instead remaining dedicated to her home and creating her “Mecca.” Whether or not Helen’s life choices have made her “free” or oppressed is a source of contention: Elsa says that Helen’s choices make her “the first truly free spirit I have ever known” (61), while Marius believes that she is “exactly the opposite” of free by being “trapped […] in the nightmare this house has become” (64). Regardless of whether Helen’s Mecca has given her a sense of individual freedom, Helen had the artistic freedom to create it as she wished, and this artistic freedom has allowed her to express herself and create a world of her own. 

In contrast to Helen’s freedom through her non-conformity and artistry, the play also explores the racial oppression of 1974 South Africa, in which black Africans were subject to apartheid and racial discrimination. Elsa is a champion of racial equality who frequently brings up whether the Africans in New Bethesda are “free” and equal participants in the town or are being oppressed by the white population, and she talks of picking up an African woman on the side of the road who had been kicked out of her home and was walking with her child in hopes of a new life.