Liberalism in South African English literature 1948-1990 : a reassessment of the work of Alan Paton and Athol Fugard.
This thesis examines the concept of liberalism as it informs, and is expressed in, the work of two of the most prominent South African writers during the apartheid era of 1948-1990: Alan Paton and Athol Fugard. The aim of this study is to come to a precise and objective understanding of liberalism during this time, and to demonstrate how the nature and worth of the literary achievements of these writers can be properly ascertained only through a thorough grasp of their liberal outlook. A dual focus is thus pursued. From one perspective, a fuller understanding is facilitated of the work of two major South African writers in the light of a lucid and coherent comprehension of their liberalism. Obversely, an accurate understanding of their work - as perceptive, sensitive and informed writers, addressing problems of their social and political milieu - in turn serves to illuminate some of the most important dilemmas and responses of liberals in recent South African history. The rationale for this study arises from the fact that much confusion, imprecision and misunderstanding continues to surround the notion of liberalism in South African literary critical, political and historiographical thinking. Such imprecision, moreover, is not limited to the opponents of liberalism, but also characterises the thinking of many liberal-minded scholars in this country. In consequence, the liberal basis of a good deal of South African literature remains either unacknowledged or misconceived, and, accordingly, the actual meaning and significance of a large proportion of literary work in this country, including that of Paton and Fugard, has not been adequately apprehended or appreciated. Given this critical imprecision, it is necessary as a preliminary measure to provide an introduction to the notion of liberalism in general theoretical terms before proceeding to a specific exploration of how the values, principles and beliefs which constitute liberal political philosophy present themselves in the literary work under consideration. The opening chapter explicates such fundamental liberal concepts as individualism, autonomy, liberty and equality, as well as some of the differences in emphasis between the leading liberal political theorists. This chapter also considers the nature of the contemporary liberal democratic state, the development of liberalism within the South African context, and some of the key linkages between liberal political philosophy and liberal literary critical practice. Following this theoretical introduction, the greater part of the thesis involves a detailed critical scrutiny of the creative writing, in turn, of Alan Paton and Athol Fugard. These writers have been chosen, firstly, because they stand out as indisputably the most eminent liberal authors in recent South African literature, indeed, as two of the most acclaimed writers in the contemporary English-speaking world. But their selection also derives from the fact that their writing, taken together effectively spans the entire period of apartheid. Alan Paton's famous first novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, was written immediately prior to the Nationalist Party election victory in 1948, and his writing extends into the 1980s. Athol Fugard's career commences in the 1950s and has continued up to and beyond the ending of apartheid in 1990. In fact, his most recent work to be considered in this study, Playland, is set on the last day of 1989, on the very brink of apartheid's demise. As the critical study of each writer's primary literary texts follows a chronological sequence, their work collectively provides a comprehensive view of the developing conflicts and challenges which confronted liberals throughout the time of apartheid. This is not to suggest that Paton and Fugard were the only liberal writers active against apartheid, and attention is paid to the achievements of other liberal authors during this time. Concomitantly, cognizance is taken of the range of differences between Paton and Fugard, including age, temperament, background, religious convictions, and involvement in formal politics. An advantage of a study dealing with both men is the ability not only to suggest the essential characteristics of liberalism which underlie individual distinctions, but also to reveal how a general liberal orientation manifests itself in particular instances. A study of both Paton and Fugard has benefits also in a generic sense, in that it allows a perspective on the expression of liberal ideas in both a fictive and a dramaturgical mode. For the most part, this thesis concentrates on each writer's favoured genre (Paton's fiction and Fugard's drama), though consideration is given to their other creative work, such as Paton's poetry and drama, and Fugard's fiction and film work. Moreover, both men's non-creative writing (autobiographical, biographical, notebooks, speeches, articles) is taken into account as a potentially valuable source of insight into the evolution of their liberal understanding. The most provocative factor motivating the selection of Paton and Fugard for study remains, however, the fact that neither writer's liberal standpoint has to date received full or proper appraisal. It is the contention of this thesis that each writer's liberalism, far from being a subordinate feature of his work, forms the very core of his political morality and aesthetic and demands a precise understanding. The chief objective of this study, then, is to conduct a reassessment of the work of Paton and Fugard through the filter of a rigorous account of their understanding and expression of the fundamental values and principles of liberalism.