The Island

The Island Summary and Analysis of Part 3


Scene 2. The same cell, a few days later. John hides under a blanket, while Winston dresses up as Antigone, with a wig and fake breasts. When Winston is ready, John comes out from the blanket and looks, laughing uproariously. The stage direction reads, "John launches into an extravagant send-up of Winston's Antigone. He circles her admiringly, he fondles her breasts, he walks arm in arm with her down Main Street, collapsing with laughter between each turn. He climaxes everything by dropping his trousers."

Winston does not take kindly to this lampooning, becoming angry and tearing off the costume. He tells John he does not want to perform the play, precisely because he is not a woman, but a man. He worries that if he performs as Antigone, the other prisoners will make fun of him. John tries to calm Winston down by suggesting that he was only trying to prepare him for the stage fright that will accompany performing. "Nobody laughs forever! There'll come a time when they stop laughing, and that will be the time when our Antigone hits them with her words," John says, as a way of encouraging Winston.

Winston still does not want to do the show, but John insists that they have been given a great slot and will end the whole show, and if they back out, they will get in trouble. Winston agrees to do it, but only if he plays Creon and John plays Antigone. John gets a cigarette and tells Winston that it's too late to switch, but then puts on the Antigone costume.

They argue about the play, and Winston suggests that Antigone is "a child's play." John points out that "child's play" is what Hodoshe says to invalidate all of the prisoners' concerns and complaints. John gets called off by Hodoshe, which Winston relishes. "I hope Hodoshe gives it to him," Winston says to himself, before surreptitiously putting on the Antigone wig and looking at his reflection in some water in a bucket. After trying a few Antigone poses, Winston throws the wig down and once again resolves not to do the performance. He says that he did not get sent to prison for life "so that he can dress me up like a bloody woman and make a fool of me."

When John returns, with a "vacant manner," Winston tells him that he does not want to do the play. John tells Winston that his sentence has been reduced to only three more months. The men erupt in joy, dancing about it, before Winston goes to tell the other inmates. Suddenly, John becomes nervous that it is all an elaborate trick meant to "break" him, but is comforted by the fact that he had to sign a document. He talks about the fact that they have been in the cell together for three years, and that he thought he was going to be there for 10.


While the subject matter of the play is exceedingly serious, this does not mean that the script is without lightheartedness. At the top of the second scene, John gets a real kick out of Winston's Antigone costume, laughing at his fake breasts and wig and performing an outrageous pantomime with this fake woman who has suddenly appeared in the prison cell. He does a whole show about Winston's feminine transformation, guffawing all the while.

Winston does not approve of this treatment, however, and takes off the wig and breasts in a rage. Not only that, but he refuses to perform the play, because he thinks that it will only bring ridicule from the other prisoners. In Winston's eyes, there is nothing worse than being perceived as a "woman." Even being denigrated by their oppressor, Hodoshe, is preferable, according to Winston, "At least I know where I stand with him. All he wants is to make me a 'boy'...not a bloody woman."

This lighthearted conflict about the play has some darker underlying causes. Winston dismisses the play as "child's play," which John points out as a phrase that Hodoshe uses all the time to invalidate what the prisoners are complaining about. Winston uses the words of their oppressor to try and justify why he does not want to participate in the performance. While John wants to use art and performance as a way of liberating them from the clutches of their captors, Winston has fallen prey to the captors' logic and vocabularies.

While Winston is adamant in John's presence about not doing the performance, the audience is privy to his inner conflict. When John has been called off by Hodoshe, Winston tries on the wig and looks at his reflection, before trying out a few poses that he would do as Antigone. However, "None of them work. He feels like a fool." In this moment, Winston rips off the wig in frustration and speaks to himself about how humiliated he feels about the task of performing the role of Antigone. For a brief moment, he wants to find a way to play the role, but he quickly gives up, insisting that he cannot bear the humiliation of being imprisoned for life and dressing up as a woman at the request of his friend.

In this section of the play, John receives the news that he is going to be released in only three months. While he believed he was being locked up for 10 years, today, only three years into his sentence, he finds that he has won his appeal and his sentence has been shortened. It is an occasion of great jubilation between the cellmates, and they reminisce about all of the hardships they have gone through together. John says, "3 years ago I stood in front of that magistrate at Kirkwood—bastard didn't even look at me: '10 years!' I watched 10 years of my life drift away like smoke from a cigarette while he fidgeted and scratched his arse." Here, John takes stock of all he has endured before getting to this point.