It is quite mind blowing that a nation is represented by the use of two characters, character who happen to share the same familial ties. Well this is Athol Fugard’s extraordinary achievement in his more than recommendable play, The Blood Knot.
This is a play that capture a nation at the height of apartheid and the divisions that have cut across a nation. It would be undeserving not to consider this play parabolic by all who appreciate Fugard’s literary skill and wit throughout the play.
Highly and utterly symbolic, this is one of the best plays one could ever set out to read. The plight of the less favourable in the society (blacks) is depicted by the use of elements of nature with the favourable class depicted with what truly suits them (birds).
In this play, Athol Fugard uses two characters; Morris and Zachariah who happen to be of the same mother but different fathers who are absent from their lives for a considerable time of their lives probably since their birth. Morris is a fairly light skinned individual and could pass for a white while his brother Zachariah is black. It is evident that Morris is favoured at the expense of Zachariah by their mother. Why? Well, this is one of the many questions Fugard leaves unanswered but worry not because I will try and answer them to the best of my ability in this article.
After their mother’s death, Morris leaves Zachariah behind as he goes to try and fit in to the white culture just because his complexion could pass him for a white. This turns out to be quite a trap for him since being a white had more to it than just the skin colour. Life becomes unbearable for him and he returns home.
It is quite ironical that Zachariah works the whole day while Morris gets to save his, Zachariah’s, hard earned money. Morris in other words could be said to be the de-facto accountant of the family. This occurrence is symbolic to the harsh conditions the blacks go through, they get to work as slaves while the whites save/keep their money. It could be said that among many other forms of enslavement, the blacks are financially enslaved. Morris happens to be more of a polished African compared to Zachariah. He is literate to the extent that he writes and reads letters addressed to Zachariah. During his time away, it is also clear that Morris learnt a lot from the whites most notably their mannerisms and speech. He is more of a gentleman compared to Zachariah who exhibits the traits of a native African man.
Absent fathers, one mother and totally different children. It could be said that Morris was of a white father while Zachariah is of a black one. But why is Morris favoured? The father is black and so is the mother. What we could suppose is that the level of apartheid drove the blacks to a point if dire inferiority complex such that they turned on they own so as to appease the powerful race. Fugard kills it with this. He removes the fathers from the picture and lets a mother turn against her own child. At this point, one would also like to reflect on the position of black women in the South African society. The boys’ mother must have been a servant to a white who must have raped her so that she conceived and gave birth to Morris and refused to claim responsibility of Morris. What of Zachariah’s father? His case must be a quite definite one, though not told, a keen reader could and should figure it out that he was killed by the whites probably before his wife was raped or after and he too must have been a worker, slave, at their farms. Black women are also not protected just by the virtue of being black. Most if not all of the black women in this play are raped. Zachariah rapes Connie while his mother is raped so as to conceive Morris. Miss Ethel Lange, a white who is also a sister to a police officer, is not raped. This is a depiction of how the whites were close to power, if figures of power seems an overstatement.
The monstrous theme of Apartheid and Exploitation are things that Fugard masterfully depicts in this play. Morris confesses his sins by saying that they are not that black, one may wonder if sin is actually coloured and since this is an abstract idea, it leaves the impression that the black skin complexion has nothing to be desired.
Living a more or less mechanical and technical life, the brothers have no time to spare for themselves, especially Zachariah who spends the whole day at the gate where he chases children of fellow blacks. This task seems tiresome since he comes home a wretch. Morris in the meantime spends the whole day in the house waiting for Zachariah’s earnings so he could save them. Quite ironical.
It is also important to note that when Morris plans to leave he packs his Bible, his OTHER shirt and an alarm clock. All these three items are symbols of the life the brothers are living. The alarm clock is symbolic to the mechanical life they are leading. Their life is controlled and they have no choice but to adhere to the rules or norms. The bible Morris packs must strike the reader as a fortune discovered. It serves to symbolize a lot of issues depicted in the play. The basic and most common attribute represented here is Christianity. Morris is definitely a Christian since he seem to cherish his Bible a lot and even recites Christian prayers. It is symbolic of the white man’s religion—who Morris represents in the play. Zachariah has no religious affiliation to which he ascribes and this is a depiction of the native African community. It is ironical since oppression of the weak is a vice condemned in the Bible yet the Whites oppress the Blacks. The Bible also symbolizes Morris’s literacy. Not to over rate this but I believe it must have been a King James Version. His prayer may also serve to prove my point “…our Father which art…”
Morris also packs his other shirt. He might have had several or two yet Zachariah had one which he constantly or at worse none.
“…You see, we are tied together, Zachariah. It’s what they call the blood knot…the bond between brothers.”Reference is payed to Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot