The Island

The Island Summary and Analysis of Part 2


John and Winston reminisce about a production of Antigone in which a teacher they both knew named Georgie played Creon. John imitates Georgie, and how the short man became tall by the end of the play. Someone named Nomhle played Antigone, and John talks about how he cannot stop thinking about her, as Winston professes to have learned the plot.

John quizzes Winston, and when Winston messes up a plot point, John gets very upset. After Winston gets the plot right, they prepare for sleep, and John talks about the fact that they need to get a wig and that some other prisoners said they would smuggle a piece of rope for John from the jetty. Winston says he wants to send some tobacco to someone named Sipho, who is in solitary confinement for complaining about the food.

As they prepare for bed, John tells Winston to be obedient in the morning, so that they do not get stuck doing menial labor. "People must remember their responsibilities to others," John says, when Winston tells him that it's his night to do a pre-bed performance of some kind, since he reenacted The Fastest Gun Alive starring Glenn Ford the previous night.

John launches into a scene, pretending to be calling someone named Scott, then talking to someone named Sky. Winston gets overjoyed with the fantasy and plays along. John passes on a message to Sky telling him to visit Winston's wife, V., and tell her that Winston is alright. This invocation of his wife immediately ruins Winston's sense of fun and he crawls back to his bed. John then asks Sky to talk to "Princess," his wife, whom he has not heard from in three months. He asks after his children and his parents. He then says, "Tell them that maybe tomorrow we'll go to the quarry. It's not so bad there. We'll be with the others. Tell her's starting to get cold now, but the worst is still coming."


John and Winston have a distinct dynamic, particularly around the performance of Antigone. While John takes the performance very seriously and wants to do it faithfully and well, Winston is less proactive about preparation and seems to take the material more literally than does his friend. This creates a dynamic in which Winston is the ne'er-do-well and John is the responsible one in the duo. We also learn that within the dynamic at the prison, Winston is more likely to act out than the docile John. Their identities become more and more distinct as the play progresses.

We also catch little glimmers of information about the past, as when the two men reminisce about a production of Antigone that they once saw. This gives us a window into the context from which the men are coming, the fact that they do remember a life before imprisonment. Their life before imprisonment seems to have involved a school and a relationship to the theater, a relationship that John wants to keep alive within the confines of the prison.

In addition to the play they are rehearsing, Winston and John use their imagination to get through their pre-bed ritual, switching off nightly who will perform a make-believe scenario. In this scene, John pretends to call people from their old lives, asking after their respective wives. Even this imagined conversation on the phone fills them both with anticipation and excitement, as it makes them feel as if they are still living an autonomous life outside the confines of the prison.

However, just as the make-believe game is able to fill them with buoyancy and excite them, it also has the power to break their spirits. Winston is deflated by the mention of his wife, as it only makes him more aware of his imprisonment. Fugard narrates this change of heart in vivid terms, writing, "The mention of his wife guillotines Winston's excitement and fun. After a few seconds of silence he crawls back heavily to his bed and lies down. A similar shift in mood takes place in John." John asks after his wife and children, having not heard from his wife in some time, and experiences a similar wave of sadness.

This first scene ends on an ominous note, as John says in his fake phone call, "It's starting to get cold now, but the worst is still coming." This suggests that there are darker times ahead, even if they are somewhat unknown, and alludes to the uninterrupted sorrow of not only imprisonment, but the violence of apartheid in South Africa. The future is uncertain and undoubtedly bleak, and both of the men can feel that perhaps the worst is yet to come.