The Island

The Island Summary

Cellmates John and Winston are imprisoned on an island for fighting against South African apartheid. They spend their days undertaking back-breaking labor outside in the searing heat, and are generally mistreated by the guards, one of whom they refer to as "Hodoshe," a word for a carrion fly that feeds on decaying dead bodies. A brotherly feeling has developed between John and Winston, and they share stories of their lives with each other. They picture days at the beach, and speak of childhood and happier times.

The men are busy rehearsing for a performance of Sophocles's play Antigone; John plays the role of Creon, Winston plays Antigone. So far, rehearsals have been mostly in their own cells, in their prison clothes. When Winston tries on his female costume for the first time, he almost pulls out of the play altogether, humiliated by the thought of appearing in drag in front of the other prisoners.

Amidst the preparations for the play, John is summoned to the prison governor's office, where he learns that his appeal was successful. He is going to be released in three months, after having originally been sentenced to 10 years. Although Winston is happy for his friend, thoughts of home combine with regret and he starts to unravel emotionally. He wonders why he got involved with making a stand against the regime in the first place. Winston vows to endure his sentence, but tells John that he will likely forget all about him, beaten down by years in a cell.

Performance time comes quickly; John, playing Creon, sentences Winston, in character as Antigone, to be walled into a cave because she has defied him and instead shown her loyalty to her brother by giving him a proper burial. The plot of Antigone mirrors the plight of the two prisoners, who fought for what they believed in. They stare at the audience, having taken off their costumes, begging to be understood. The play ends with John and Winston running, still chained together, with the sound of sirens going in the background.