In the play by Athol Furgard The Road to Mecca

In the play by Athol Furgard The Road to Mecca, the audience is introduced to the character “Miss Helen” who is based on a real South African artist named Helen Martin. Miss Helen lives in small Karoo town called Nieu Bethesda, the old-fashioned farming community set in the ways of Afrikaner tradition – there is only Christianity, women conforming to certain social expectations and not straying from the norms and values. These traditions challenge miss Helen as a widow, an artist, who she is spiritually and what makes her truly happy. Miss Helen goes on an adventure of self-discovery through her artistic expression of sculpture instead of abiding by the social and Christian norms of the community. Through sculpture she finds her Mecca – a state of mind, a symbol of her artistic expression, freedom and spiritual fulfilment.
Miss Helen’s Mecca is not the typical religious city in the middle east, but a symbol of her artistic expression. Her Mecca is her garden which is filled with her artistic sculptures placed precisely leading her to the East her city of light. Helen being influenced by a conservative Afrikaner tradition – a woman cannot express herself and her rights as a woman openly. She has never been given the chance or taught that it is acceptable to express how she truly feels and who she truly is as a unique individual and not just as the social roles of a “widow”. Evidence of Miss Helen’s conservative way of thinking appears when she talks to Elsa Barlow. Elsa is a much younger English school teacher who has a current, matter of fact way of thinking and she is not afraid to say it. On page 23- 25 Elsa expresses her unconventional opinion on social issues like women abuse, Getruida applying for a liquor licence and how the coloured people feel about changes in the community. Yet being as conservative as she is Miss Helen feels the need to express herself through her sculpture, she is no longer worried about what the community will think of her anymore. She is proud of what she has created and what her art stands for. Her Mecca – her artistic expression is her liberation, she expresses her pride for her art on page 34-35. Miss Helen tells Elsa, “this is what I really am”, referring to all the sculptures she has made.
Miss Helen uses her sculpture as a source of freedom – freedom from social norms and the depression and loneliness she faces. Marius comes to visit Miss Helen, on page 56 he begins to encourage her to move into a nursing home and leave this “life” behind her. He begins to challenge her freedom by almost forcing the idea on her. It seems he ultimately cares for her safety and well-being, but on page 60 he tells her, “It’s your manner which now keeps them at a distance”. He is implying that her artistic freedom is divergent and the community is unable to relate, he emphasis this claim on page 65, while pointing towards Miss Helen’s Mecca, “how else do you expect the simple children of the village to react to all that? It frightens them”. This could be a major reason for Miss Helen to have to leave her community, they don’t understand and accept her Mecca. Miss Helen’s mecca is symbolic because it gives her the ammunition she needs to fuel her freedom in making her own decision to stay in her “owl house”, despite what her community feels about it. Through this decision she argues with herself, Marius and Elsa. She pleads with Elsa help her say no to Marius. On page 71 she explains the experience she had the night after Stefanus’s funeral, feeling alone and almost waiting to die, she explains she wasn’t mourning Stefanus because she never loved him, “my black widowhood was really for my own life, Marius”. His death allowed her the freedom to transform her home into her Mecca, validating this moment gives her the courage to fight for her Mecca and in turn fight for her freedom. On page 73 Miss Helen says “I won’t be using this (application form) I can’t reduce my world to a few ornaments in a small room in an old-age home”. Her Mecca gives her the freedom from the traditional bonds of her community, her late husband and all the other decisions people have made on behalf of her. Her Mecca is a metaphor for her freedom.
Being free from Stefanus allowed Miss Helen to actualise that church was no longer satisfying her spiritual needs. She explains to Marius she had lost her faith. On page 70 Helen speak about her faith, “what faith? The one that bought me to church very Sunday (shaking her head)”. Marius is worried about her not attending church anymore, instead she feels he should have been worried a long time ago. “I tried hard, Marius, but your sermons, the prayers, the hymns, they had all become words”. This emphasises that Church was no longer a source of spiritual fulfilment. On page 72 Miss Helen claims she has travelled to Mecca a “city of light”. She has seen the temple in Mecca and has recreated it in her garden. Her Mecca is her personal, intimate relationship she has with the “light” or spiritual fulfilment. Just as church is known to instils faith in a person, Miss Helen’s Mecca instils faith within her. Her Mecca is her salvation, it has led to her journey of spiritual fulfilment – a way of finding something bigger than her, something “Godlike”.