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The Train Driver by Athol Fugard Essay

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Updated: Mar 13th, 2020

The cardinal rule in life is to do to others what one would expect others to do to him or her. Nevertheless, in most cases, people treat others inhumanely, and when the effects of such behavior come back to haunt the inhumane person, he/she plunges into self-indictment.

This truth underscores Athol Fugard’s motives for writing the play, The Train Driver. According to Gold, “…a black woman, her 2-year-old strapped to her back and her 3-year-old and 5-year-old in her arms, left a South African squatter camp and stepped into the path of a speeding commuter train…” (Para. 1). Touched by this incident, Athol Fugard wrote The Train Driver.

The play opens in a cemetery; a special cemetery where unclaimed and nameless corpses are buried. Simon, the gravedigger, lives, in a shack at the corner of the cemetery and his work is to appease the spirits of the departed by singing them one soothing song after another.

Rolf, the train driver and a “traumatized, angry, and unable to get the woman and her baby out of his head” (Spencer Para. 5), visits Simon in the cemetery.

Roof tells Simon that he is here to find a dead nameless woman together with her baby, whom he (Roef) killed through a train accident. In retrospect, Rolf recalls how a woman carrying her child stepped on the trail as the train was approaching.

Unfortunately, Rolf happened to be the one in charge of the train, and as the train crushed the woman and her child, Rolf could feel it in his heart.

Before Simon can digest all this information, Rolf immediately confesses that he is in mental confusion, which could cost him his sanity, job, life, and family. Therefore, Roef is here to curse the dead woman for causing him such trauma and untold suffering.

Even though this was just another accident, which Rolf could not control, he feels guilty about it. In the next few days, Simon embarks on a plan to convince Rolf to accept that the accident was just that, an accident, forget it and stop self-indictment.

Simon and Rolf spend several nights in Simon’s shack where they form a relationship that is founded on suspicion at first. They refer to each other as ‘you people’ even though they know each other’s names.

Fortunately, they come to realize that, even though they are of different skins, they face the same fate, that is, death and as Simon observes, worms do not differentiate white skin from a black one.

Ref pushes Simon to allow him to bury the unmanned woman and his child, but Simon refuses to give in to these demands.

The best Simon can offer to let Rolf know he cannot change the past; therefore, it would make sense if he (Roef), forgave himself and forgot about the dead woman.

Unfortunately, Fugard leaves the audience in suspense longing to know whether Simon finally allows Reef to bury the unnamed woman. The audience cannot even tell whether Rolf eventually overcomes his guilt.

As aforementioned, guilt motivated Fugard to write this play. Billington divulges that Fugard considered The Train Driver “the most important play he has ever written.”

Fugard’s comments on the game are true given the fact that play touches on real-life situation exploring deep-rooted guilt that the whites suffer due to the pain and misery they caused South Africans during apartheid.

Works Cited

Billington, Michael. “The Train Driver, Review.” The Guardian, 2010. Web. 30 November 2010. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/nov/10/the-train-driver-review>

Gold, Sylviane. “An Unavoidable Collision.” The New York Times, 2010. Web. 30 November 2010.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/nyregion/07theaterct.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=Harry%20Groener&st=cse>

Spencer, Charles. “The Train Driver: Hampstead Theatre Review.” The Telegraph, 2010. Web. 30 November 2010. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/8123525/The-Train-Driver-Hampstead-Theatre-review.html>

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