The Train Driver


Athol Fugard

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Themes and Colors
Race and Empathy Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Helplessness vs. Agency Theme Icon
Names Theme Icon
Hope vs. Despair Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Train Driver, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Language Theme Icon

Over the course of Roelf’s stay at Simon’s shack, the men gradually start to use words from each other’s languages: Simon starts saying “ja” instead of “ewe,” and Roelf echoes Xhosa phrases used by Simon. The intertwining of their languages highlights the characters’ desire to communicate and connect with each other in spite of the societal factors that divide them. The play also explores language through the power of vulgarities. Roelf swears throughout the play, and his initial goal is to find Red Doek so he can “swear at her properly.” Roelf resents Red Doek for bringing about a traumatic moment in his life, and he believes that he can put his mind at rest by enacting vengeance against Red Doek. The fact that his imagined vengeance takes the form of swearing highlights that verbal violence can be as impactful as physical violence. However, Roelf does not find closure through language: he eventually decides not to swear at Red Doek, and Simon persuades him to speak to her spirit instead. Roelf tries to follow Simon’s advice, and his monologue to Red Doek’s ghost seems to help him––and yet before Roelf can truly resolve his anguish, he is killed by the very physical violence of the amagintsa. The failure of language here highlights the limits of its power. Language can facilitate both connection and aggression, but in the context of racial strife, that capability can be overpowered by deadly violence.

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Language ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Language appears in each scene of The Train Driver. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Language Quotes in The Train Driver

Below you will find the important quotes in The Train Driver related to the theme of Language.
Prologue Quotes

SIMON: My name is Simon Hanabe, I am the one who puts the nameless ones in the grave. This is how it happened. When I first see the whiteman…he is walking among the amangcwaba where the ones with names is sleeping…. Then he sees me watching him and he comes to me and starts talking but that time I didn't know what he was saying––his words were all mixed up like he was drunk. So he gets very cross with me when I shake my head and tell him I don't know what he is saying.

Related Characters: Simon Hanabe (speaker), Roelf Visagie
Related Symbols: Unmarked Graves
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 1 Quotes

ROELF: (with vicious deliberation) Ja. Give me her name…or show me her grave…and I will do it. S’trues God. In both official languages because I am fully bilingual…I’ll do it so that her ghost can hear me. I’ll tell her how she has fucked up my life…the selfish black bitch…that I am sitting here with my arse in the dirt because thanks to her I am losing everything…my home, my family, my job…my bloody mind! Ja! Another fucking day like this one and I won’t know who I am anymore or what the fuck I am doing!

Related Characters: Roelf Visagie (speaker), Red Doek (The Woman), Simon Hanabe
Related Symbols: Unmarked Graves
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 2 Quotes

ROELF: All I could think of to say was, “What the fucking hell are you all staring at?” And Lorraine said, “These are your children, Roelf Visagie––go swear at your woman from the bush.”…When I heard those words it was like something just opened up inside me, because I suddenly realized you see that that is what I wanted to do! Ja! I wanted to take a deep breath and then load up my lungs with every dirty thing I had ever heard and then say them into the face of that woman, who still stands there waiting for me in my dreams. I wanted those to be the last words she hears when my train hits her…But the trouble was I didn’t know her name! I mean you know how it is. When you talk to somebody in your mind you think their name, don’t you?

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 4 Quotes

SIMON: I sing to [the ghosts]. I sing like my mother sing to me when I was a little boy and she carry me on her back….
ROELF: You think they hear you?
SIMON: Ewe. They go back to sleep….And all is quiet again.

Related Characters: Simon Hanabe (speaker), Roelf Visagie (speaker)
Related Symbols: Unmarked Graves
Page Number: 33-34
Explanation and Analysis: