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."
Read more from the Study Guide
Boesman and Lena is a central play in Athol Fugard’s canon, for it presents his concerns for the nonwhite South African population. Indeed, most of Fugard’s plays have black characters. For example, the central relationship in “MASTER HAROLD” . . . and the Boys (pr., pb. 1982) is between Harold and his black servant, Sam. Some of Fugard’s early plays, such as The Island (pr. 1973) and The Blood Knot (pr. 1961), focus exclusively on nonwhite characters. His plays are consistent in their commitment to portraying and protesting the conditions that nonwhites faced in South Africa.
Boesman and Lena is representative of Fugard’s body of work because it demonstrates the influences of Camus, Samuel Beckett, and Bertolt Brecht. Beckett’s influence on the play is apparent in the basic plot—two central characters, alone in a desolate landscape, who are forced to deal with their baffling condition, a story line similar to that of Beckett’s En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954). The desolation of Boesman and Lena’s situation, their conflict, and the arrival of a third person who cannot understand them are also reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. The Brechtian influence might seem more subtle, for Brecht wrote large-cast plays on sweeping themes. Both Brecht and Fugard, however, have written indictments of society. Boesman and Lena is a social protest play, for Fugard is presenting an implicit indictment of apartheid laws that made possible such removals and dispossessions as Boesman and Lena face. Fugard, therefore, combines in Boesman and Lena significant influences of writers with quite divergent approaches.
Boesman and Lena captures themes and character types that recur in Fugard’s works and evidences his belief that theater can serve as a civilizing influence on society. The inhumane conditions depicted in the play are faced in real life by many of his countrymen, even in post-apartheid South Africa. Fugard’s use of approaches and dramatic devices borrowed from other major modern writers and filtered through his own imagination has permitted him to develop a powerful idiom for drama of social protest. A focus on moral conscience and social critique resurfaced as important themes in Fugard’s plays from the 1990’s. Playland (pr., pb. 1992) and Valley Song (pr. 1995, pb. 1996), among others, focused on post-apartheid South Africa and the myriad dynamics that the new social structure imposed.