… Who wears the suit ?….
Set in South Africa in 1961, during apartheid, Blood Knot tells the story of two brothers, one who looks White and the other Black. They’re sons of one black mother each with a different father and, as is said of the one who looks completely White, “It happens.”
They were treated differently from the moment of birth. How do we know? The older got the Biblical “Black” name of Zachariah, while the younger. born looking White, was given a “White” name: Morris.
Other contrasts are that Morris is literate and speaks with a White South African accent, and Zachariah is illiterate and speaks with a Black South African accent. (We know the two were brought up together and were very close as boys, so while — sure — one can figure out reasons for these contrasts, they remain unconvincing.)
They’ve been living together in Zachariah’s ramshackle shack in Korsten, a Black neighborhood on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. Morris, who’s been a drifter while passing as White, returned to Korsten and to Zachariah about a year ago with a plan: putting money aside regularly from Zachariah’s wages, he’s saving up for them to buy a farm together — one thinks of Lennie and George in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Zachariah, who works at a hard job with a mean boss, and that gives him painful feet, longs to go out for a good time like he used to before Morris installed his dour regime of saving for the future and praying. Most of all Zachariah longs for “woman.” To keep him on the straight and narrow while letting him gratify his “woman” fantasies, Morris sets illiterate Zachariah up with a “pen-pal”, a girl in a distant city Zachariah can fantasize about all he wants — until it looks as though the girl is going to come to Port Elizabeth and look for him. It’s fascinating to watch Zachariah’s strength of personality blast through his dependency on Morris for the writing and reading of exchanged the letters.
Since the pen-pal girl turns out to be White and Zachariah is Black (though she doesn’t know it), the pains and ironies of race relations under apartheid emerge within this oh-so-human correspondence. The pen-pal relationship, with all its room for deception, is filled with humor, pathos and keen suspense as we worry that Zachariah’s romantic desire may lead to a tragic end. Blood Knot has a terrific Act I.
Act II; good-bye Lennie and George, hello Cain and Abel. The basically we’re-in-it-together relationship in Act I is replaced in Act II by raw jealous conflicts between the brothers and by extension between Blacks and Whites. Once the girl is out of the picture, the men are left with the fancy clothes — featuring an electric blue suit — that Morris had bought for Zachariah when they thought she might actually appear. Morris dons the suit and — clothes maketh the man — turns gradually into a kind of mean White overbearing, plutocrat overseer, brutalizing his Black brother (supposedly all in a game.).
But with these events, telling as they may be, the action no longer emerges from the characters, but appears arbitrarily invented to make the author’s point. Zachariah becomes more sophisticated and better spoken, and at the same time more servile than the character we’ve come to know, all in service to the author’s message, that is: brutal conflict between brothers is in our blood, and we are all brothers under the skin.
From a rich human drama, the play turns into a schematic parable. I haven’t seen this kind of programmatic slippage in other Fugard plays; perhaps it’s here because Blood Knot was one of first plays (1961), though revised and re-titled slightly in 1987. Colman Domingo is powerful and moving as Zachariah in Act I where he has a genuine role to play. Scott Shepherd is a good foil to him but never as convincing because the role as written is more wobbly.
Among the reasons to see Blood Knot are to learn more about South Africa under apartheid and glimpse the effects on individual lives, and to see the young Fugard finding his way as an important playwright.
Blood Knot plays at SignatureTheatre, The Pershing Square Signature Center, on West 42nd Street in Manhattan. Click for a review of Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, World Premier.
Your questions and comments are really interesting and inspiring, I have a task of analysing a south african play and i choose the Blood knot,but my challenge is how to get the copy of the play. Elachi 4rm Nigeria.
Dear Benson, I’m glad what I wrote about Blood Knot was interesting to you! It was really good to hear from you. You are the first person I’ve heard from who’s written in from Kenya. Hope to hear from you again. Yvonne
For real this saves me lots of time
it was easy to analyze the text…from the assighnment I was given at the campus in my country kenya.
The texy adresses racialism in a noble way
It is amazing what one event like that can do, so full of meaning. Let’s hope it holds! Thanks for writing this fascinating observation.
I’m sure hoping along with you on that!
Thanks a lot for writing,
Interesting question! The train driver’s wife is never seen in the play but is described by him as being kind of an “OK” person but on the other hand being very involved in having things in the house “just right,” no disorder, having things “look right” and when he disrupts things — and he did get destructive — she can’t take it and leaves him, and so the train driver goes on a kind of quest to discover the woman he only glimpsed, holding her child, before his train hit them —
That is an up todate analysis which has answered my questions very well.Thnx so much.Kindly let me know the depiction of the woman in this play.
Yes, and the scenes involving illiteracy are as you say very telling.
much to my doubtful delight,am pleased with the way the south African born playwright skillfully displays his mastery of the hazards created by apartheid in his country. unlike Alex la Guma’s Mine Boy,Blood knot encompasses what race can result into within a family and how illiteracy can be an enemy to human kind. perfectly penetrative .
A really good analysis – it took me a while to realize that they were brothers – this should have bee made much clear in the beginning of the play. Also note – this new theater designed by Gerry is really excellent – looking forward to may visits and plays to be held here – a wonderful addition to the New York Theater scene.
Greetings from Amy Abrams. I am a former Adelphi student from the early 1980s. You were my favorite teacher, who inspired me to write–and to write about art. I am a professional arts journalist with over 200 stories published in magazines and an art book contract–my latest endeavor. You can find me at
http://www.AmyAbramsWrite.com or on Linkedin in New York City. Maybe you recall that I wrote a paper about a Jacques-Louis David painting (a view from his prison cell). How are you? I would so much enjoy hearing from you.