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Vitali Isaev
Vitali Isaev

The History and Relevance of The Coat by Athol Fugard



The Coat by Athol Fugard: A Powerful Symbol of Resistance and Hope




The Coat is a short play written by Athol Fugard, one of South Africa's most acclaimed playwrights. It was first performed in 1966 as part of a trilogy called Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act. The play is set in Johannesburg during the apartheid era, when racial segregation and oppression were enforced by law. The play tells the story of a man named Morris, who has just died from tuberculosis in a shanty town. His wife, Keniloe, is left with his only possession: an old coat. She decides to bury him in his coat, but before she does, she performs a ritual in which she puts on his coat and speaks to him as if he were alive. Through this ritual, she relives their memories, expresses their grievances, and reaffirms their love. The play is a powerful symbol of resistance and hope in the face of oppression and despair.




The Coat By Athol Fugard



The Plot of The Coat




The play begins with Keniloe sitting on a wooden crate in front of a corrugated iron shack. She is holding Morris's coat in her lap. She speaks to Morris as if he were still alive, telling him that she has come to say goodbye to him. She says that she has no money to buy him a coffin or a grave, so she will bury him in his coat. She says that his coat is his only legacy, and that it tells his whole life story.


She then proceeds to put on his coat over her dress. She says that she wants to feel him close to her one last time. She says that his coat is warm and soft, like his skin. She says that his coat smells like him, like sweat and smoke. She says that his coat is full of holes and patches, like his life. She says that his coat is heavy and hard, like his work. She says that his coat is dirty and torn, like his dignity.


She then starts to act out different scenes from their life together, using his coat as a prop. She recalls how they met, how they fell in love, how they got married, how they had children, how they struggled to survive, how they suffered under apartheid, how they resisted against the system, how they hoped for a better future, and how they lost everything. She alternates between speaking to him as a lover, a friend, a partner, a comrade, and a martyr. She also speaks to him as an enemy, a traitor, a coward, and a fool. She accuses him of abandoning her, of betraying her, of hurting her, and of dying on her. She also forgives him, praises him, thanks him, and blesses him. She expresses her anger, sorrow, guilt, fear, and love.


She then reaches the climax of her ritual, when she tells him that she has a surprise for him. She says that she has found a way to honor him and to make him proud. She says that she has joined the resistance movement against apartheid, and that she has agreed to carry out a dangerous mission. She says that she has hidden a bomb inside his coat, and that she is going to blow up the police station where he was arrested and tortured. She says that she is going to sacrifice herself for their cause and their people. She says that she is going to die with him in his coat.


She then prepares to leave for her mission. She says goodbye to him and asks him to wait for her in heaven. She says that she loves him and that she will always love him. She says that his coat is their symbol of resistance and hope. She then walks out of the shack with his coat on her back.


The Themes of The Coat




The Coat is a play that explores various themes and messages related to the experience of apartheid and the struggle against it. Some of the main themes are oppression, identity, dignity, and solidarity.


Oppression and Resistance




The play portrays the harsh realities of apartheid and the struggle against it. Apartheid was a system of racial discrimination and segregation that was implemented in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Under apartheid, the white minority ruled over the non-white majority, who were denied basic rights and freedoms. The non-white population was divided into different racial groups (black, colored, Indian) and assigned to different areas of residence, education, work, and movement. The black majority was further divided into different ethnic groups (Zulu, Xhosa, etc.) and forced to live in overcrowded and impoverished shanty towns or rural homelands. The apartheid regime used violence and intimidation to enforce its policies and to suppress any opposition or resistance.


The play shows how Morris and Keniloe are victims of apartheid and how they resist against it. They are both black South Africans who live in a shanty town called Sophiatown. They are poor, uneducated, unemployed, and sick. They have no access to proper housing, health care, sanitation, or electricity. They are constantly harassed by the police and the authorities. They are subjected to raids, arrests, beatings, torture, and killings. They are also threatened with forced removal from their home to make way for white settlers.


They are not passive or submissive in the face of oppression. They are active and defiant in their struggle for justice and freedom. They join the resistance movement against apartheid, which includes various political organizations (such as the African National Congress), trade unions, churches, cultural groups, student movements, and armed wings (such as Umkhonto we Sizwe). They participate in protests, boycotts, strikes, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare. They risk their lives and sacrifice their families for their cause and their people.


Identity and Dignity




The play explores the personal and collective identity of the oppressed and their sense of dignity and self-worth. Apartheid was not only a system of political and economic oppression, but also a system of cultural and psychological oppression. It aimed to dehumanize and degrade the non-white population by denying them their history, culture, language, religion, and values. It aimed to instill in them a sense of inferiority, shame, fear, and hatred towards themselves and each other.


The play shows how Morris and Keniloe are affected by apartheid and how they cope with it. They are both aware of their identity as black South Africans They are proud of their identity and try to preserve and celebrate it. They speak their native language (isiXhosa), practice their traditional customs and rituals, wear their ethnic clothes and accessories, and sing their folk songs and hymns. They also identify with other black South Africans who share their oppression and resistance. They are part of a larger community and nation that transcends their ethnic differences. They are inspired by their leaders and heroes, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Albert Luthuli. However, they are also conflicted and confused about their identity and dignity. They are influenced by the dominant white culture and ideology that surrounds them. They are exposed to the media, education, religion, and propaganda that promote the values and interests of the white minority. They are tempted by the material comforts and privileges that the white society offers. They are sometimes ashamed of their own culture and people, and sometimes resentful and envious of the white culture and people. They are also divided and distrustful among themselves, as apartheid exploits their ethnic, class, gender, and political differences. They are sometimes loyal and supportive of each other, and sometimes hostile and violent towards each other. They struggle to maintain their identity and dignity in the face of oppression and assimilation. They try to assert their individuality and humanity in a system that treats them as objects and numbers. They try to express their feelings and opinions in a system that silences and censors them. They try to find meaning and purpose in a system that deprives them of opportunities and choices. They try to reclaim their history and culture in a system that erases and distorts them. They try to affirm their rights and values in a system that violates and undermines them. Hope and Solidarity




The play expresses the hope for a better future and the solidarity among the oppressed. Apartheid was not only a system of oppression and exploitation, but also a system of resistance and liberation. It provoked and inspired the non-white population to fight for their freedom and dignity. It also united and mobilized the non-white population to work together for their common cause and vision.


The play shows how Morris and Keniloe are hopeful and solidary in their struggle against apartheid. They are both optimistic and realistic about their situation and prospects. They are aware of the difficulties and dangers that they face, but they are also confident and determined to overcome them. They are not naive or idealistic, but they are also not cynical or pessimistic. They believe in the possibility and necessity of change, and they are willing to contribute and sacrifice for it.


They are also supportive and compassionate towards each other and their fellow oppressed. They are not isolated or indifferent, but they are also not selfish or competitive. They care for each other's well-being, happiness, and safety, and they help each other's needs, problems, and goals. They share their joys, sorrows, fears, and hopes, and they comfort, encourage, advise, and challenge each other. They also cooperate with other groups and organizations that share their struggle and aspiration. They recognize their diversity, but they also acknowledge their unity.


The Symbolism of The Coat




The play uses the coat as a symbol to represent different aspects of its themes and characters. The coat is not just a piece of clothing, but a metaphor for various meanings and messages. The coat symbolizes oppression, resistance, hope, identity, and solidarity.


The Coat as a Symbol of Oppression




The coat reflects the poverty, humiliation, and violence that the oppressed face under apartheid. The coat is old, worn-out, patched-up, dirty, torn, stained, and smelly. It is a sign of Morris's low social status, lack of resources, hard work, poor health, low quality of life, and low self-esteem. It is also a reminder of his suffering, abuse, torture, death, and dispossession. The coat is a symbol of how apartheid oppresses and degrades the non-white population.


The Coat as a Symbol of Resistance




and tortured. The coat is also used to disguise her identity and to avoid suspicion. The coat is a sign of Keniloe's courage, determination, commitment, and sacrifice. It is also a message of her anger, resentment, revenge, and justice. The coat is a symbol of how the oppressed resist and challenge the apartheid regime. The Coat as a Symbol of Hope




The coat inspires hope and courage in the face of despair and fear. The coat is warm, soft, comfortable, and protective. It is a sign of Morris's love, care, affection, and loyalty. It is also a source of his memories, dreams, values, and beliefs. The coat is a sign of Keniloe's faith, trust, gratitude, and devotion. It is also a way of her coping, healing, remembering, and honoring. The coat is a symbol of how the oppressed hope and cope with their situation.


The Coat as a Symbol of Identity




The coat reveals the personality, history, and values of its owner. The coat is unique, distinctive, colorful, and expressive. It is a sign of Morris's individuality, creativity, humor, and charisma. It is also a reflection of his background, culture, ethnicity, and nationality. The coat is a sign of Keniloe's admiration, appreciation, respect, and recognition. It is also a connection to her husband, family, community, and nation. The coat is a symbol of how the oppressed express and preserve their identity.


The Coat as a Symbol of Solidarity




The coat connects different people and groups who share a common cause and vision. The coat is shared, exchanged, borrowed, and inherited. It is a sign of Morris's friendship, generosity, cooperation, and solidarity. It is also a link to his comrades, allies, supporters, and followers. The coat is a sign of Keniloe's belonging, attachment, involvement, and solidarity. It is also a bridge to her movement, organization, network, and audience. The coat is a symbol of how the oppressed unite and mobilize for their struggle.


The Relevance of The Coat Today




The play still resonates with contemporary issues and audiences. The play reminds us of the past struggles and achievements of the anti-apartheid movement. It also challenges us to confront the ongoing injustices and inequalities in our society. It also encourages us to take action and stand up for our rights and dignity.


The Coat as a Reminder of History




The play reminds us of the history of apartheid and its impact on South Africa and the world. The play shows us how apartheid was a brutal and oppressive system that violated human rights and dignity. The play also shows us how apartheid was a powerful and inspiring movement that fought for freedom and democracy. The play teaches us about the history of resistance and liberation that shaped South Africa's present and future.


The Coat as a Critique of Injustice




The play challenges us to critique the injustice that still exists in our society today. The play shows us that apartheid was not only a South African problem, but a global problem. The play also shows us that apartheid is not only a historical problem, but a contemporary problem. The play exposes the injustice that still affects many people and communities today, such as racism, poverty, violence, corruption, and oppression.


The Coat as a Call to Action




The play encourages us to take action to stand up for our rights and dignity today. The play shows us that apartheid was not only a political issue, but a human issue. The play also shows us that apartheid was not only a collective issue, but an individual issue. The play inspires us to take action to defend our rights and dignity today, such as by speaking out, organizing, protesting, voting, and educating.


Conclusion




The Coat by Athol Fugard is a powerful symbol of resistance and hope in the face of oppression and despair. The play tells the story of Morris and Keniloe, who are victims and fighters of apartheid in South Africa. The play uses the coat as a metaphor to represent various aspects of their struggle and identity. The play explores various themes and messages related to the experience and meaning of apartheid and its aftermath. The play is still relevant and resonant today, as it reminds us of our history, challenges us to confront our present, and encourages us to shape our future.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about The Coat by Athol Fugard:


  • Q: When and where was the play first performed?



  • A: The play was first performed in 1966 at the Dorkay House in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a trilogy called Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act.



  • Q: Who are the main characters and actors of the play?



  • A: The play has only two characters: Morris and Keniloe, who are a married couple living in a shanty town. The original actors who played them were John Kani and Nomhle Nkonyeni.



  • Q: What is the genre and style of the play?



  • A: The play is a drama that combines realism and symbolism. It is a one-act play that consists of a single scene and a single setting. It is a monologue that is spoken by Keniloe to Morris, who is dead.



  • Q: What is the historical and political context of the play?



  • A: The play is set in Johannesburg during the apartheid era, when racial segregation and oppression were enforced by law. The play reflects the realities and challenges of the anti-apartheid movement, which included various forms of resistance and protest against the regime.



  • Q: What is the main message and significance of the play?



  • A: The play is a powerful symbol of resistance and hope in the face of oppression and despair. The play uses the coat as a metaphor to represent various aspects of the struggle and identity of the oppressed. The play is still relevant and resonant today, as it reminds us of our history, challenges us to confront our present, and encourages us to shape our future.



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