The Island

The Island Character List


John is one of the play's two protagonists. He was sentenced to serve ten years on the island as punishment for belonging to an organization that worked in opposition to South African apartheid. In the middle of the play, John's sentence is commuted from ten years to three, which means he will be released in three months' time.

John has formed a close brotherhood with Winston, with whom he shares a cell. He is given to frequent reminiscing about life on the outside, and happy times in his childhood, which is positive for him. Of the two, he is more motivated to perform the play Antigone, and he is generally the more optimistic of the two cellmates. At the end, he sympathizes with Winston who must serve a life sentence, and does not want to make the news of his appeal any more painful to his friend.


Winston made a huge stand against the regime when he burned his passbook in front of the police. The passbook is used to segregate whites, blacks, and other groups. Thus, his is a serious crime because it defies the tenets of the entire system of apartheid. Although Winston is committed to the cause, when news of John's release comes, he begins to question why he became involved in the first place, and he feels discouraged by his life imprisonment. Of the two cellmates, he is more prone to pessimism and fear, and he is much less enthusiastic about performing Antigone, particularly because it requires him to play a woman. However, he eventually learns his part and performs the play.


A symbolic character who is never seen, Hodoshe is the name Winston and John give to a prison guard, and the name literally means "carrion fly." Hodoshe is a symbol of the brutality of the regime and we know he is present whenever we hear the sound of the piercing prison whistle. He is the most abusive and unfeeling of the prison guards, and the two men fear him and his punishment.