Her neighbors are trying to get rid of Helen by encouraging her to move into a local old folk’s home because of her eccentric work of art surrounding her home and because they fear for Helen’s safety living alone, now that she is in late adulthood and recently almost burnt her house down. Elsa is a young career minded woman who has befriended Helen and the only person that respects and accepts Helen’s work and interest. Throughout this play there are many psychoanalytic themes such as love, abandonment, dependency and loss to name a few.
Both Helen and Elsa appeared to have grown up with a sense of abandonment and lack of trust from their families and others. Before the death of Helen’s husband, she lived as a conventional member of society. After becoming a widow, she began expressing herself in an artistic way and displaying her creativity throughout her house. Now that she is in late adulthood and becoming gradually unable to manage on her own as she use to, her sense of creativity seems at an end and she finds herself faced with a sense of darkness and hopelessness that at times overwhelms her.
Helen discusses that when she was a child her mother would take away her candle at night; to be in pure darkness as a child was frightening for her and when her mother took away the candle, she took away Helen’s only source of comfort. That fear of darkness transformed into a feeling of abandonment for Helen which has caused her to search for intimacy and trust in her life that she fears she will not find before she dies. Helen’s darkness that she once saw on the outside when the candles were blown out is now darkness she feels on the inside; candles can no longer help this kind of darkness.
This darkness symbolizes Helen’s depression. She is frightened that old age is over taking her and affecting her ability to continue creating her Mecca, take care of herself and find the true intimacy in her life that she needs. When Helen meets Elsa and their friendship blossoms, she becomes Helen’s only source of light. The day Helen met Elsa is the day she felt like her true self. Elsa didn’t judge Helen because of her statues and mermaids, she accepted her and after this, Helen felt she could trust Elsa. Elsa revived Helen’s life by accepting her true self.
Elsa has extreme trust issues which are exposed throughout this play. All trust is lost and feelings of abandonment resurface after Elsa’s married boyfriend leaves her and chooses his wife and child. Shame and guilt arise when Elsa has an abortion and when her plan to live happily ever after with a married man goes sour. The relationship with the married man opened her up to life and love, she felt like a woman for the first time. Her heart was wide open to someone that ended up betraying her. Now she feels as though she can’t trust at all and will think twice before she trusts again.
Elsa feels you can love someone without trusting them, she is stuck in a mind set of all you need is love. This situation brings up feelings from the past for Elsa. It’s apparent that Elsa never learned trust as a child and trusting another is what she fears most. “Trust is more dangerous because that’s when you drop your defenses, lay yourself wide open, and if you’ve made a mistake, you’re in big, big trouble. And it hurts like hell. ” Helen and Elsa’s fear of abandonment, trust and feelings of possible rejection also emerge when they both hide secrets from each other.
Helen lies to Elsa about her suicidal attempt when the house almost burnt down and Elsa hesitates to tell Helen about the abortion and the married boyfriend. The two women have found love in each other and trust; they have had too much rejection in the past and fear their friendship will end badly if their secrets are revealed. Both women are very desperate to see if their friendship will survive their struggles. When Helen explains to Elsa about Marius and the rest of the community encouraging her to move into an old people’s home, Elsa becomes furious with Helen for not standing up for herself.
Elsa becomes so angry about this issue, she needs Helen to stand up for herself and fight because Helen is the only one that lives her life the way she wants. If Helen goes into the old people’s home, Elsa will feel a sense of abandonment. Helen serves as a source of inspiration for her and her reaction to Helen’s inability to cope is tied to her need for Helen to remain a strong role model. There are many instances where both women provide a mirroring experience for each other in their lives. Elsa understands Helen’s life of expressing herself through her statues and she allows Helen to see how special she is.
Elsa represents the good enough mother for Helen. She provides a holding environment for her. Especially after Elsa receives Helen’s letter of despair and comes to her side for support. Helen is able to challenge Elsa, to be herself and nobody has ever done that. This is what a mother would provide for her child. Both have a fear that if one is in darkness how will the other survive. Helen and Elsa need each other to take away their darkness inside. Miss Helen and Elsa develop a twinship with one another.
Both allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other, Miss Helen even states she allows the little girl inside of her come out to play when she is around Elsa. They both provide a sense of belonging and acceptance for each other. A mother holds the key to her child’s development. Helen and Elsa are on a journey of self discovery and both are at two different developmental stages in their lives. They are both stuck in two areas of the life cycle, trust and abandonment. The mirroring experience Miss Helen and Elsa have, allows a social worker to assess that both women are searching for the mother they never had.
These two women were each other’s therapist. A therapist in many cases acts as the “mother” or “caretaker” for their clients. Therapists provide a safe holding place for their clients to be able to fall apart in. Therapists also mirror back strengths and uniqueness of a client that typically a good enough mother would provide. With support for each other Miss Helen and Elsa were able to move on with life. At the end of the play, Elsa helps Helen gain confidence when she stands up to Marius about not moving into the retirement home.
Helen was able to explain to Marius that her home is the only place where she feels real. After Helen is able to stand her ground against Marius and the rest of the town, Helen and Elsa’s bond deepens. Elsa is able to admit that her choice of abortion has caused some depression. Helen is able to understand the pain that Elsa feels just like Elsa is able to understand Helen’s unconventional art work. The understanding that Helen has for Elsa’s troubles helps Elsa recognize the special role that Helen plays in her life.
In the first act of the play when Elsa was very mean and disrespectful to Helen, she was displacing her anger and grief about her married ex-boyfriend and aborted child onto Helen. Elsa is even able to trust again by the end of the play, which is evident in the closing line, “Open your arms and catch me, I’m going to jump. ” At the end of Act two, Helen is also able to move on with her life by allowing her candles to be blown out which symbolizes she is accepting her development in late adulthood and the completion of her Mecca.
The childhood background of a person plays a major part in their adulthood life. When one has a healthy family typically the experience of abandonment and trust issues do not occur. Elsa felt trapped in her early adulthood; she had a job as a teacher in a “colored” school and ultimately had to conceal her true self to keep her job. Her heart was broken by the man she loved and opened her heart to and she experienced guilt and shame for terminating her pregnancy. Helen was also feeling trapped in her life.
Creating her Mecca allowed her to create her own freedom and show her true self instead of complying with Cape Town’s religious ways of living. Both women were able to find a way out of their trapped lives by finding trust and true intimacy with each other. This play shows the development of a great friendship and how having true intimacy in your life means showing all your faults and rawness without rejection. Helen and Elsa’s characters show that you can continue to grow until the end of life.