Gender on the frontline : a comparative study of the female voice in selected plays of Athol Fugard and Zakes Mda.
Lombardozzi, Letizia Maria.
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It can be argued that critical scholarship has not satisfactorily commented on the portrayal of women in South African theatre by male playwrights. This dissertation will examine the presentation of the female voice in the selected plays of two playwrights, namely Athol Fugard and Zakes Mda, coming from different socio-historical and cultural backgrounds. This comparative study will re-interrogate the selected representative texts from a feminist perspective, and will compare Fugard's subversive distrust of the female voice juxtaposed against Mda's refreshing celebration of the female presence in the selected plays. Fugard and Mda's female characters are generally seen by their readers, audiences and critics such as Andrew Hom, Marcia Blumberg and Dennis Walder as fundamentally vital, irrepressible and certainly more admirable than their male counterparts, as it is ultimately their quest for symbiosis and affirmation of the self which precludes any passive spectatorship on the part of the audience. However, paradoxically and ironically, it is Fugard, writing from a relatively privileged white male position, who consistently places his female characters in positions where their distinct inner strength is continually undermined. Despite their cognitive ability to engage with their situation, they are seldom permitted to triumph over the bleakness of their lives, but in fact are rendered emotionally impotent in the face of insurmountable existential isolation. Always situated within an interdependent relationship absent of hope and love, Fugard's women characters are never allowed to forget the role they are expected to assume in a patriarchal society rife with political and racial overtones. This very impasse in which they are placed by Fugard generally resonates strongly with the audience, who can identify or empathise with the women, but who are not afforded an imaginative escape by Fugard. Mda's female characters are created and portrayed within a similar political and universal system which perpetuates their exclusion from power and keeps them in servitude. However, unlike the ultimately silenced women in Fugard' splays, Mda, writing partly from a historically marginalised position himself, empowers his female characters with the freedom to confront and articulate their emotions and perceptions. His female characters are inscribed in a multiplicity of social positions, within which they most often find a solution to their problems and demand an outcome which is not only determined by outsiders, but by their own inner strength. Although they are less fettered by class and ideological constraints, they are however more naively drawn than Fugard's female characters. Whilst Fugard' s female characters in the selected plays are, without exception, left on the periphery of the play as the ultimate victims of their inescapable circumstances, the female characters created by Mda more often than not dominate the stage by virtue of their indomitable resilience, rather than resignation. This dissertation will also examine Fugard and Mda's presentation of their female characters as wholly a male's construct, set in a political context which subtextually interrogates race and gender. The implied assumption concerning the authority of the male writer over women's narratives will also therefore be questioned. Reference to Fugard and Mda's own personal histories as well as their other non-fictional writing will be seen as relevant in this regard. In conclusion, this dissertation will focus on the artificially imposed passivity of Fugard' s confined and limited female characters, and will compare this to Mda's empowerment of his female characters through critical awareness. The provocative issues of voice and violence as agency in both Fugard and Mda's discourse will be viewed, in particular, from within an apartheid system of governance.