CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
In the Freedom of Dreams: The Story of Nelson Mandela.
Michael A. Miller.
Toronto, ON: Playwrights Canada Press, 2003.
67 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Mandela, Nelson, 1918- -Drama.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters & Jenn Cuddy.
A woman with no arms. This unforgettable image is one of the central metaphors in Michael Miller's play In the Freedom of Dreams: The Story of Nelson Mandela. The woman, crippled by her powerful and unfeeling father, wanders lost and alone in the forest with her baby tied to her back. She cannot feed him because she cannot reach him, and her hunger, anguish and shame almost defeat her. In the end, she is saved, her arms restored, and the story of how she overcame all odds despite the cruel and unfair treatment she received becomes the stuff of legends.
Nelson Mandela is, himself, a living legend not only in South Africa but also around the world. When Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in February, 1990, his arms were restored to him and he was able to accomplish remarkable things for his country, his people and for humanity. What sustained Nelson Mandela throughout his years of incarceration in the prison on Robben Island? What experiences, influences, thoughts, and dreams influenced this remarkable man who was able to emerge from more than twenty-five years of imprisonment to skillfully . . . help to disarm the crippling effects of apartheid? (From the "Introduction.")
In the Freedom of Dreams: The Story of Nelson Mandela is a short but powerful piece of drama. Like the woman with no arms, Mandela is, himself, "the stuff of legends." Still, this play provides a sense of the man behind the legend, and in the play's first act, we come to know the young Mandela, son of a Xhosa warrior king. He is re-named "Nelson" when he attends a British school, and after the death of his father, is adopted by King Jongintaba, who educated him, mentored him, and let him "see up close how to rule." It is a rather privileged existence. However, Act 2 brings Mandela, now a young man, to Johannesburg, a very different place from the world just outside his home village. Johannesburg is the "real and brutal world of African men and women" where the young Mandela would have to dream new dreams if he were to achieve his hopes. He becomes a lawyer, an advocate for human rights; he also becomes a husband and a father. Later, as a result of his political activities, he becomes a fugitive and then a political prisoner. His marriage breaks down, his children grow up without him, and he experiences profound personal losses in the 27 years of his imprisonment. Still, he is sustained by his dreams, despite the mindlessness of life in prison and the monotony of its routine. Then, a dream is fulfilled: freedom comes at long last. The world has changed, and so has he, but he has triumphed and continues to work at "making this dream of freedom for [his] nation a reality for this world."
I was curious as to how a drama teacher might view this play and how it might be used in a drama class. Jenn Cuddy, who has assisted in the review of other items for CM, looked at In the Freedom of Dreams from the perspective of a drama teacher. She was favorably impressed with this short play and saw it as having a multiplicity of classroom applications.
Said Jenn: "As a drama teacher, I would use this play when studying dramaturgy, voices of different times and cultures, and scene analysis. This text would also work nicely in an ELA Human Rights unit to be used as a dramatic reading or in a World Issues class as a topic of discussion such as, "Is Nelson Mandela's fight for rights still an important issue today?"... It would allow for a variety of staging techniques as well as incorporating an array of dramatic mediums such as music, lighting, voice, etc. This representation of Nelson Mandela's life calls for strong actors and would be a director's dream to produce."
Although the context of South Africa is fundamental to understanding much of the action of the play, both Jenn and I thought that most students in the range of the book's target audience (ages 14 and up) would be able to understand the content of the book. In the Freedom of Dreams offers a short dramatic perspective on Nelson Mandela, his story, and apartheid in South Africa. It is worth acquiring, both as a classroom text and as a library resource.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB, where Jenn Cuddy is also a drama teacher.
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