The Island

Gender, Masculinity, and Femininity in The Island College

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona is an acclaimed South African play set in a prison during the period of apartheid. The play effectively portrays the difficult experiences undergone by black convicts and the harsh conditions they are forced to deal with on account of attempting to ‘speak truth to power’. This essay will critically analyse the depiction of the intricate subjects of gender, masculinity and femininity in the play. In addition, numerous elements of The Island will be discussed, focusing particularly on the amiable, yet somewhat strained relationship between two inmates; John and Winston, in the men’s prison to which they have been sentenced. This essay will further explore the recollections they have of the women from their past, and the complexities of the ‘play within a play’, as John and Winston bring Sophocles’ incredibly apt Greek tragedy, Antigone, to life for their fellow inmates, warders, and the infamous Hodoshe.

John and Winston are cellmates in a hyper-masculine prison environment where their close and comfortable friendship is conveyed from the beginning. This is illustrated as John goes as far as attempting to clean out Winston’s wounded eye with his urine after they endure a...

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