Boesman & Lena Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography and a Free Quiz on Boesman & Lena by Athol Fugard.
Athol Fugard's Boesman & Lena is one of the playwright's best-known and most widely respected dramatic works. It established Fugard's reputation as a major playwright. Boesman & Lena was first produced at the Rhodes University Little Theatre in Grahamstown, South Africa, on July 10,1969. Fugard played Boesman in this production. The play was first produced in the United States in an Off-Broadway production at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 1970. This production won an Obie Award from the Village Voice for Most Distinguished Foreign Play of the season.
Like many of Fugard's plays, Boesman & Lena focuses on non-white characters and includes an element of social protest. Set in the mudflats outside of the playwright's native Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the title characters are an ill-matched "colored " (a South African term that describes people of mixed race) couple who have been beaten down by society. From its first productions, the play has been praised for its frank depiction of the affects of apartheid on people of color.
But critics also applaud Fugard because his play transcends time and place. Boesman & Lena can be seen as a metaphor for oppressed people of all nationalities, an exploration of the difficulty in relationships between men and women, and the need for human kindness, compassion, and hope. In a review of the original Off-Broadway production, the New Republic's Stanley Kauffmann wrote: "This is not a protest play, though the pain of race hatred flames through it; it becomes, quickly and surely, a drama of all human beings in their differing captivities, suffering from and inflicting hate."
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The title characters of Boesman and Lena are South African “coloreds” (this word is in quotation marks because it is a governmental racial designation that is offensive to many of those classified as such). As the first act opens, they have been dispossessed of their home by the white authorities, and they are walking along the mudflats of a river in South Africa. They carry all of their possessions in bundles; Boesman carries his on his back, while Lena carries hers on her head. They are middle-aged, and their dress and demeanor indicate that they have led a life of hardship and poverty.
The conflict between the two is almost immediately apparent. As Lena makes observations and asks Boesman questions about the condition of their lives, he tersely tells her to stop talking. Boesman does not want to think about the whys and wherefores of their lives, but Lena wants to know why their lives are as they are and asks him such questions as why he stopped at the mudflats and in what order they lived in certain locations. She wants to remember the past; Boesman, on the other hand, angrily states that life consists only of what is happening at the present moment.
Lena also desperately wants someone to share her quest for finding out how and why her life came to be in such a condition; she wants a witness to her quest and her life, both past and present. The major aspect of the conflict between Boesman and Lena is that he refuses to play this role. He berates Lena for asking questions, laughs at her, and makes jokes about her questions. Still, she believes that she needs him to help her in her quest, because he is the sole witness to their many moves, the places they have lived, and how they arrived at their current desperate situation. Boesman, however, laughs derisively as he tells Lena that he is aware that she wants him to help her find herself. Boesman continues to dismiss Lena’s questions as nonsense.
When an old black man who only speaks Xhosa comes along, Lena quickly tries to communicate with him. They each talk—she in English, he in Xhosa—with neither understanding the other. However, Lena pretends, or has the illusion, that she is carrying on a dialogue with the man. Boesman angrily leaves the scene for most of this interaction, stating that the man will turn his and Lena’s resting place into a “Kaffir nest” (“Kaffir” is a South African word equivalent to “nigger”). In this part of the play, Fugard emphasizes that Boesman and Lena differentiate between “coloreds” and black Africans. Lena overlooks the man’s race in her need for a sympathetic companion...
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