In The Road to Mecca we learn about conformity and eccentricity and how people who stray from the normal accepted road are judged and condemned for merely being themselves. But we also learn about love and friendship and the people who experience these blessings.
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Set in a small town in the Karoo region of South Africa The Road to Mecca is the story of miss Helen, an artist trying to survive in an isolated community, and her two friends, Marius, the local dominee, and Elsa, a schoolteacher from the city.
Feeling alone and unable to complete her work Miss Helen, in a state of depression, writes a letter pleading for help to her long time friend Elsa. Both women have much in common — both are rebels against the normal accepted social standards: Elsa teaches radical material to her coloured students, and Helen’s exotic artwork defies traditional notions of art encompassing her entire house and garden, her own homemade Mecca.
On arriving at the house, Elsa discovers Miss Helen is desperate for someone to help her renew her faith in herself. After a series of accidents around the house, the local dominee, and good friend, Marius has decided to try and convince Miss Helen to retire to his church’s old age home.
In one evening, friendships are challenged and beliefs questioned as they confront themselves and one another. Convinced that Miss Helen is unfit to live by herself, Marius tries to manipulate Miss Helen into moving into the retirement home. Elsa, on the other hand, praises Miss Helen’s freedom and individuality claiming that Miss Helen is “ the first truly free spirit I have ever known”.
In the end, the friendship of the two women triumphs in a reaffirmation of friendship and love reconciling differences.
The story of the play is the story of the friendship and the differences in the characters of Elsa and Helen. It is the nature of this friendship that drives the plot forward. The almost aggressively active Elsa provokes a seemingly passive Helen to explain why she feels as she does. Through trying to explain their motivations to each other, they achieve a greater understanding of their own actions as well as those of their friend. In The Road to Mecca, Elsa and Helen are both oppressed by their environments. They are both white women, Elsa from the liberal city, and Helen from the conservative Afrikaner society.
Helen’s friend Dominee Marius is an added catalyst introduced at the very end of the first act to give another perspective to this very complex play.
Other characters such as Patience, the black woman next to the road and Katrina, Helen’s coloured friend from town are only referred to and never actually appears in the play. They are merely there to online the barrier between race and society in the South African Apartheid-era.
Thus by emotionally involving us the reader and theatergoer into the play we are interested in the dilemmas the playwright creates, thus creating a very memorable play.