No Change Without Connection: Analyzing My Children! My Africa!
In the play My Children! My Africa! by Athol Fugard, the characters’ desires may be similar, but their many limitations due to social and political differences all contribute to conflicted viewpoints. Thami, Mr. M, and Isabel have difficulty connecting with each other for a multitude of reasons. When passion for change conflicts with and overshadows other characters’ opinions, problems arise. Thami and Mr. M struggle to share a perspective about freedom because Thami prioritizes liberation by violence over education; however, Isabel’s different cultural upbringing inflicts a barrier on her ability to empathize with Thami’s need for change.
The characters Thami and Mr. M both want similar things, and emphasize a need for change, although Thami sees the solution as liberation through the use of violence, and Mr. M expresses that he values the power of education much more. Their significant desire to want change may overlap, yet agreement between the two is limited when it comes to how change shall be attained. Mr. M demonstrates the difference between violence and language when he states, “…If you put these two on a scale I think you would find that they weighed just about the same. But in this hand I am holding the whole English language. This… (The stone.) … is just one word in that language” (69). His explanation of the two objects supports the idea that language and education are worth more than violence. By describing that he is able to hold an entire language in one hand in awe, he is encouraging that education and language are to be valued much more than throwing stones; for him, education is more powerful. Earlier, he explains how a revolution and protest can take form in educating people about an issue. “Where were you when I stood there and said I regarded it as my duty, my deepest obligation to you young men and women to sabotage it, and that my conscience would not let me rest until I had succeeded. And I have! Yes, I have succeeded! I have got irrefutable proof of my success. You!” (63). Mr. M conveys that his success is bound up with Thami’s awareness and anger towards the insufficient Bantu education.
Thami’s inability to recognize what Mr. M considers the sabotage of his mission his obligation demonstrates Thami’s limitations; he does not fully understand the effect that words and education can have. The social division between his generation and Mr. M’s generation also contributes to their conflict of viewpoints. For her part, Isabel is unable to empathize with Thami’s actions and decisions because of a different cultural upbringing. Being raised in a white community affects Isabel’s opinions and outlooks, which make her unable to understand Thami’s, which she disagrees with. He says “My world is also changing, Isabelle. I’m breaking the boycott by being here. The Comrades don’t want any mixing with the whites” (62). When Thami refers to his community as “my world,” he is creating on a stronger emphasis on the social divide between him and Isabel. It is demonstrated that, racially, Isabel’s mere interaction with Thami is already a conflict in itself.
Unfortunately, because of Isabel’s race and upbringing, Isabel cannot truly share’s Thami’s need for change. She doesn’t understand it either, because of the different social reality she is accustomed to. Her pampered life, and favoritism for being white from the political system, is the main cause for this inability to even understand Thami’s desperation. Without Isabel’s empathy, she and Thami cannot share a common viewpoint. Isabel’s upbringing ingrained a deep rooted gratitude for being white, and pity to those who are black, but nothing more than that. Never empathy or an effort to understand the drastic differences in their lives: “I ended up being damn glad I was born with white skin. But don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it seriously or anything like that” (21). Since Isabel hadn’t thought about the significant differences in the social and political realities that a black person struggles with in life, she fails to understand and share common ideas and needs. She may get along with Thami as a friend, but since the black world is so foreign to her, she cannot understand or perceive how deeply rooted Thami’s urgency for change is.
For Isabel, the major conflict is just a matter of struggling to understand why change is needed, but for Thami and Mr. M, the conflict is much different. They cannot rationalize each other’s beliefs on how to reach that much-needed development on account of different priorities regarding fundamental values. Mr. M’s passion for education conflicts with Thami’s encouragement for violence, and Isabel can’t even understand why the change is necessary.
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