Power, Self, and Other: The Absurd in 'Boesman and Lena,'

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Editors: Elizabeth Bellalouna , Michael L. LaBlanc , and Ira Mark Milne
Date: 2000
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,510 words

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As the substantive body of criticism about Samuel Beckett's theatre attests, it is difficult not to impose a variety of contexts onto his work. Athol Fugard's theatre, alternatively, restricts and focuses one's perceptions so that it is difficult to see more than a single context. More simply put, an audience reads its world into Waiting for Godot, while it reads another world out of Boesman and Lena. The authors' respective uses of absurdity have led to this state of affairs.

Fugard ... provides exact information on his characters' spatial locale and thus defines absurdity as a condition resulting from the human power structures that govern life, not as the condition of life itself.

Boesman and Lena is as explicit a title as Waiting for Godot. In the latter title, as numerous others have pointed out, unidentified individuals are waiting for God. Control of the individual's fate is placed outside his/her hands into those of a deity; human responsibility is diminished. Others have offered less useful biographical interpretations: Godot is named after a French cyclist, or is the French slang word for boot. While offering an additional dimension to the punning that Beckett indulges in, these latter correlations are not particularly useful for those seeking to explicate the play. Beckett has insisted that the meaning of the title is unimportant. Flippancy, mischievousness, or authorial right may be invoked to explain or support Beckett's position, but the play is an act of communication, a dramatic utterance, which begins with a statement of import. The gerund "waiting" in Beckett's title alerts the reader/audience to the fact that if the communicative act is to mean anything, if grammar means anything, the state of waiting is both subject and action of Beckett's play. What does it mean to wait; what is it like to wait? The prepositional phrase that completes the title specifies whom (or what) one is waiting for. It clarifies the subject and the act.

Boesman and Lena is simply the names of two characters in a play inhabited by three. Obviously the lack of identification of the third individual gives these two more importance than the unnamed African. More specifically, Lena's song illustrates that "Boesman" is not merely a name, it is also a label and an identification of one's culture: "Boesman is 'n Boesman / Maar hy dra 'n Hotnot hoed" !Boesman is a Bushman / But he wears a Hottentot's hat. "Bushman" is a political label, for the Afrikaners use it as a general term of abuse against the Africans and "coloureds." That Boesman wears a Hottentot's hat should not go unnoticed because a Bushman is considered less civilized, and so lower on the social scale, than a Hottentot. Boesman, therefore, can be said to spurn his identity and falsely attempt to assume another to (re)gain a sense of dignity, albeit in the discourse and practices prevalent in the white scale of values, not his own. Lena, on the other hand, seeks a definition of her being: the questions she...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420031053