The Road to Mecca

Fugard, Athol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-12-2006


Since her husband's death, Miss Helen has lived alone and transformed her home into a work of art by creating a myriad of cement wise men, camels, owls, mermaids, and other figures around the house; and decorating the inside with dozens of candles and mirrors. She has created her own "Mecca" of beauty and freedom amid the harsh church-going Afrikaners and voiceless Colored of this desolate region of South Africa. She has befriended a young teacher from Cape Town, Elsa, who sees the light of humanity in Helen, while others view her as an old woman who went crazy after her husband's death.

In response to Helen's letter of distress, Elsa drives from Cape Town to make a surprise visit on the same day the local pastor, Marius Byleveld, comes to Miss Helen's house to help with her application for a bed at the local Old Folks' Home. Marius is invested in Helen moving to the Home because he fears for her safety (she recently burned herself by accident). Beneath this concern, however, is his deeper fear of her "idolatry" and her self-imposed exile from the Church; yet deeper still, is his human love for Miss Helen. With Elsa's support, Helen takes a stand, deciding to remain alone in her Mecca, rather than going to the Home.


This beautifully wrought drama illuminates human conflict on many levels: between young and old, religious and secular, the oppressed and their oppressors. The "Mecca" metaphor speaks to the relationship between imagination and freedom. Likewise, Miss Helen's candles illuminate the deep connection between creativity and light. Miss Helen's Afrikaner community expected her to shrivel up and die after her husband's death; for them, the "right" thing to do was for her to close the drapes to keep out the light.

But instead, Miss Helen began to have visions of Mecca, an illuminated city that she then began to recreate in a series of concrete images. In doing this, she alienated herself from the whole Afrikaner community, except Marius, the pastor, whose love for her was strong enough to endure despite his prejudice and misunderstanding. To paraphrase William Carlos Williams, the poetry may seem irrelevant to a person's life, but people die every day for want of the nourishment poetry can give them.


Theater Communications Group

Place Published

New York



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