Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot

Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot (1961) is a play about two brothers, who live in a one-room shack in a crumbling section of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They are different in temperament, but they reaffirm and support each other. Morris is a light-skinned colored man, Zachariah is a black man. They are half-brothers, who have the same mother. They have shared the same one-room shack for about a year.

Zachariah works as a gatekeeper at a park. His job is to keep black people from coming into the whites-only park. He has footsores, from having to stand on his feet all day.

Morris prepares hot water for Zach to bathe his feet. Morris has been saving the money that Zach earns, so that they can buy a two-man farm. Morrie’s dream is to start a new life as a farmer, but Zach feels bored and lonely. Zach wants a woman.

Morrie has plans for the future, but Zach has no plans. Morrie wants Zach to share his dream of having a farm, but does not seem to realize that Zach must have his own dreams.

Morris decides that, since Zach wants to talk to a woman, he should write letters to a woman, so that he will not feel so lonely. Thus, Morris proposes that Zach write letters to a female pen-pal. Morris looks for personal messages in the classified section of the local newspaper.

Since Zach cannot read or write, Morris writes Zach’s letters for him. Zach dictates the letters, and Morris copies them. They start writing letters to a young woman named Ethel Lange.

Ethel sends a letter with her photo, revealing that she is a young white woman. Morris is fearful that someone will discover that they have written a letter to a white woman, and urges Zach to burn the lettter, but Zach is now excited by the fact that he can defy the oppressive reality of apartheid, and wants to continue writing letters to Ethel.

Ethel says in her next letter that she is coming to visit Port Elizabeth, and that she wants to meet Zach. She does not know that he is black. Zach suggests that, since Morris is light-skinned, he should take Zach’s place, and pretend to be a white man. Zach spends thieir savings on a suit of clothes for Morris, telling him that he should go to see Ethel.

Morris is temporarily dejected by the loss of their savings, which for him represented their hopes for the future. But Ethel sends another letter saying that she is now engaged to be married, and thus will not be coming to visit them.

Zach is bitterly disappointed, but Morris and Zach find support in each other, and in the “blood knot” which unites them as brothers. Thus, the play shows that personal caring and commitment can overcome the sense of alienation caused by racial or cultural separation.

The play is important not only as a work of art, but as a statement against the injustice represented by apartheid. When the play was first performed, in 1961 in Johannesburg, with Athol Fugard as Morris and Zakes Mokae as Zachariah, the actors were arrested. The play was banned by South African authorities, and censorhip laws were passed, which prohibited racially mixed casts or audiences in theaters in South Africa.

Fugard had to endure having his home raided, and having his phone tapped by South African authorities. His passport was revoked in 1967, after Blood Knot appeared on British television, but was later returned to him in 1971, after a public petition of support.

An interesting aspect of the play, in scene seven, is the temporary conflict between Morris and Zachariah, caused by their playing, respectively, the roles of white man and black man, as a game for their own amusement. The game becomes too real for them. They are at the point of violence, when they remember that they are only playing a game.

Morris, in fact, had been tempted to use his light skin-color to try to live his life as a white man, but had been unable to live with the guilt and uncertainty that this had caused. He had chosen to live his life as a black man.

Because of his light skin-color, Morris could choose whether to live as white or black. But Zachariah, because of his dark skin-color, has no choice. Zach cannot be anything other than what he is, a black man, which means being treated as inferior by the society of apartheid.

Copywright© 2001 Alex Scott

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