Sizwe Bansi Is Dead

by

Athol Fugard

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Themes and Colors
Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality Theme Icon
Official Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Acting and Truth Theme Icon
Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality  Theme Icon
Dreams Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Racial Hierarchies and Wealth Inequality

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, a play set in apartheid South Africa, illustrates how wealth gives individuals agency in capitalist societies. South Africa’s apartheid laws enforced a racist social hierarchy by not only restricting Black South Africans’ legal rights but also preventing them from accumulating wealth, which would allow them more agency and ability to help one another. The play’s title character, Sizwe Bansi, leaves his rural home in King William’s Town because he…

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Official Identity vs. Personal Identity

The three main characters in Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, all Black men living in apartheid South Africa, each have two identities: the official identity that South Africa’s white-supremacist state imposes on them, and the personal identity they derive from their sense of self. The play illustrates how racist official identities encroach on and damage Black South Africans’ personal identities. One character, Styles, worked in an automobile factory for six years; his supervisor Bradley

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Acting and Truth

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead suggests that there are two kinds of acting. The first kind of acting tries to deceive its audience into believing it isn’t acting, just reality. The second kind of acting, however, draws attention to its own artificiality and thus reminds its audience what reality is. At various points in the play, all the major characters act to deceive some audience. When Styles, an ambitious Black South African man, works in…

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Documented Reality vs. Lived Reality

Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, a play set in apartheid South Africa, suggests that documents are rarely reliable tools for understanding marginalized people’s lives. The play opens with a Black South African photographer, Styles, reading newspaper headlines aloud. When he reaches a headline about a new automobile plant, he comments that he used to work at an automobile factory—and while he read a lot of headlines about factory owners planning to better the conditions…

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Dreams

In the play Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, set in South Africa under apartheid, there exists a third category between truth and lies: dreams. Although dreams aren’t true, they could become true—and so they motivate people, even oppressed and relatively powerless people, to try to change their reality. Yet at the same time, oppression compromises people’s ability to realize their dreams; thus, it’s unclear whether dreams are healthy motivators or cruel false hopes under…

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