A Study of the Progression of friendship and its dramatic and political purpose in Athol Fugard’s The Island The Island is a story portraying the mental journey of two inmates of the notorious Robben Island jail in South Africa. Robben Island is a island off the coast of south Africa, were there is a jail. During the time of the apartheid, when this play was set, it housed the so-called political prisoners of the time including, the most famous of all of them, Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for over 30 years. The two inmates have been imprisoned for burning their passbooks in protest to the regime forced upon them.Order now
These passbooks were little books that essentially said where they could go and what they could do. In this essay I aim to analyse the friendship, and how it progresses, between the two inmates John and Winston and also how Fugard uses this relationship for dramatic and political purposes. In this play we are presented with two people, Winston and John, who are sharing the same hardships and suffering equally under them. From this alone it is safe to assume that they would not last long under these conditions unless they were both supportive to each other.
In the opening scene John and Winston are working away, each is digging a hole in the sand and placing what has been dug out into a wheelbarrow, when the wheelbarrow is full they wheel it over to the hole that the other is digging and tip the sand in. By doing this they are creating a self-perpetuating punishment in which the faster they work the more work the other will have to do. This is an important moment in the play as we see that Fugard has, through Hodoshe, carefully constructed this punishment so as to instil John and Winston with the idea that the other is to blame for the punishment.
When the two return they talk about the experience, and they are aware of Hodoshe’s plan against them to try and break their solidarity. ‘John- … I laughed at first… then I hated you Winston- That’s what he wanted. John- It was going to last forever, man! Because of you. And for you because of me ‘ This incident introduces some dramatic tension by showing that the two central characters are in fact as human as you or me and that their conflicts even though are in some way trivial contain an essence of true human nature.
Under the circumstances Fugard shows us that John and Winston, even though they are friends, would feel the same as we would in their situation, resentful of the other for inflicting this damage upon them, while aware that it wasn’t their actual fault. After the exchange mentioned above they emphasis the fact that they hated each other, repeating it and stressing the word, John the places a hand on Winston’s shoulder and affirms their brotherhood as if by saying that they did hate each other but that is over now.
The tension is already obvious here, and it is this aspect of tension, the need to blame someone for their problems and the fact that they are in a cell together that gives this play a dramatic realism. So often we see the classic story of cells mates who fight the other inmates or the warders but never is the friendship tested in such a way as it is here. The story takes an interesting twist when we learn that the two have been planning a performance of Antigone for a concert in the prison.
We witness more tension when it becomes apparent that Winston is not that interested in learning the plot. When asked whether Antigone pleads guilty or not, he answers not guilty. John then reprimands him, but Winston repeats that she is not guilty. Winston then explodes saying, ‘To hell with the play! Antigone had every right to bury her brother. ‘ From this it is obvious that the theme and plot of Antigone have affected him greatly. Fugard uses the argument to show us that Winston is still passionate about the cause of his imprisonment; he was fighting against the state for a just cause.
Antigone was imprisoned for the same reason; she went against the state and buried her brother to appease the Gods. This is the dignity that he regains at the end In a later scene Winston tries on the costume for Antigone. John then does a send-up of Winston’s Antigone, which again leaves Winston enraged. John then shows him that everyone will know it is him under the costume. This helps but only for a short while. Winston remains angry and the verbal fight continues only to be interrupted by Hodoshe’s entrance. He summons John to come with him and leads him away.
Winston meanwhile is still trying to get to grips with the costume and the fact that he will have to portray a woman, when John returns he says very kindly why he can’t do the performance, and when John tries to interject with a completely different point Winston cuts him off by saying that he doesn’t want to argue anymore and that they’ve been in the cell to long together to quarrel anymore. He then notices John’s sombre mood and then John explains why. He is going to be released in three months time. At first Winston celebrates with John, as it is truly good fortune for him, then reality sets in.
There is now an extremely dramatic change of mood, this is a bombshell for Winston as here was this person who he has spent every day and every night with and expected to spend the next few years with, and suddenly he is being taken away. Winston then turns sour towards John, playing with his mind by talking about the three months, counting them down day-by-day, building up the excitement. He then starts talking about when John will be released and what his friends and family will do for him. The thoughts of his ensuing freedom again become too much for him.
This seems like an incredibly twisted and inhumane thing for Winston to do, especially when you take into account the fact that these are best friends. Fugard shows how fallible we are in that when we should be celebrating our friend’s triumph we sometimes cannot feel anything else but jealousy. When we read about John’s release we feel happy for him and naturally we feel sad for Winston, yet we do not feel the same resentment that Winston feels as Fugard is presenting us with a form of empathy that is too difficult to picture when we sit here in comfort reading this and imagining ourselves and one of our friends in the same situation.
This situation holds the most tension and therefore dramatic realism in the play I feel, as it shows the depths that human nature can sink to. The play ends with the performance of Antigone, and also with Winston’s realisation of the nobility of the cause he and John have fought for, they have laid down their lives in the pursuit of a greater future for all, a truly unselfish act. He tells John to forget him as he will do the same, it is this acceptance and inner-peace that is Winston’s redeeming quality both for us the readers, and for John.
Fugard portrays that human nature has good qualities and that friendship is so strong a bond that these qualities can be preserved and are always present. At the end of their performance they mime being chained together and jog off the stage, friendship intact once again. This performance has, for Winston, put his dignity and nobility back in place instead of the jealousy and resentment he showed before.
The parallels between the political and personal situation here are great, as we see how the struggle of friendship in intense situation emulates political struggles. Both John and Winston are imprisoned for the cause and they regret it at times yet they persevere and do not give up, earlier they talk about another inmate called, ‘Old Harry’, who has lost all hope and sense of who he is. Old Harry became a simple drone, doing the tasks set by the prison warders with such perfection as they were the only things that meant anything to him.