The Island

The Island Literary Elements


Play, Drama, Political Play


English/South African English

Setting and Context

A prison island in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

Narrator and Point of View

The point of view is that of John and Winston, the prisoners.

Tone and Mood

Compelling, dramatic, solemn, serious, and, at times, lighthearted

Protagonist and Antagonist

John and Winston are the protagonists, Hodoshe and the South African government are the antagonists

Major Conflict

The main conflict in the play is the fact that the two men have been imprisoned for standing up against a government that they do not respect. Additionally, they are treated poorly in the prison, dehumanized and beaten down by the authorities.


The climax is the play-within-a-play, in which Winston, as Antigone, is sentenced to death, and accepts her fate.




Allusions to apartheid in South Africa, to theater, to some old movies.


The imagery is somewhat desolate; the prison is portrayed as a hopeless and dank place where prisoners are shackled to each other.


Winston's reaction to John's impending release is paradoxical: he wants to be happy for John's appeal going through, but he is also angry at him and feels it to be an excruciating reminder of his own life sentence.


The two men's life stories parallel one another; their stories in turn parallel that of Antigone from Sophocles's play.


The prison guard is referred to as "Hodoshe," which is a word for a carrion fly.

Use of Dramatic Devices

There is an unseen character who is a symbol of the oppressive regime, and who is only represented through the sound of a whistle.

There is also a play within a play, designed to mirror what is happening in the lives of the characters.