Elsa and Helen are portrayed as contrasting characters

Elsa and Helen are portrayed as contrasting characters: Helen is described as a “frail, bird-like little woman in her late sixties” (p.15) while Elsa is a “strong, young woman in her late twenties”(p.15). Although Helen appears weak, she is the stronger of the two. She stands up for her art and eventually combats her fear of darkness. Elsa may seem tough, but when she found out about her pregnancy, she chose abortion instead of raising the child alone and to break any connections to David (the father of the child).
Elsa and Helen have a deep and special friendship filled with humour and love for each other. Early in Act 1, Elsa says “Let’s face it, we’ve both got a little girl hidden away in us somewhere” and Helen replies “And they like to play together” p18. Despite the differences between their ages, occupations and cultural backgrounds (Elsa is English-speaking while Helen is rooted in Afrikaans culture), they discuss and disagree about a wide-range of private and political matters.
Helen “With the sly, tongue-in-cheek humour”(p17) still brings out the child in Elsa, “You have the rare distinction of being the only person who can make me make a fool out of myself…and enjoy it.”(p18)
Helen and Elsa agree that the essence of their friendship is trust.”Do you know what the really big word is, Helen?… Like most people, I suppose I used to think it was ‘love’… But there’s an even bigger one. ‘Trust’.” (p. 31). For Helen and Elsa, the fact that they can trust each other means that they can let their defences down, show their faults and vulnerabilities, and be truly themselves with each other.
They almost have a mother-daughter relationship, because Helen fusses about Elsa’s well being and Elsa snaps at Helen to leave her alone for a few minutes after her arrival “For God’s sake, Helen! Just leave me alone for a few minutes!”p17. She immediately regrets it and says sorry.
Helen may be older but she feels the need to impress Elsa, by standing up to Marius and proving that she is strong and capable of caring for herself. “it’s just that if I’d known you were coming, I would have had everything ready for you.” p16
Helen is neglecting herself and her house because she is no longer able to take care of it. Elsa notices this in the smallest of things “She runs her finger over a piece of furniture and holds it up for Miss Helen to see the dust”p45
Later in the play, the audience learns that Elsa drove from Cape Town to Karroo after receiving a distressful letter from Helen, but whenever Elsa tries to bring it up, Helen refuses to talk about it. She also refuses to discuss why there are several burn marks on her hands; Helen insists it was an accident. “They’re nothing. A little accident at the stove. I was making prickly-pear syrup for you.”(p41)
So, they return to more cordial topics. Elsa says that she has broken up with her most recent boyfriend since he is already married to someone else. Helen is shocked by this “You should have told me, Elsie. I would have warned you.”(p30), but that is exactly the reason why Elsa did not tell her.
Somehow both of the women did not tell the other about their situation, so as not to bother them with their own problems.
Helen also lies to Marius after he asked why Elsa is there “Good heavens! All this way for only one night. I hope nothing is wrong. ” “No. She just decided on the spur of the moment to visit me.” p52. But in truth, we know that Elsa drove all the way to the Karoo because of the letter she received from Helen.
Elsa has drawn frequent creative inspiration from the older woman who seemed to so confidently follow her artistic vision. After picking up the woman with her child, Elsa questions her decision to terminate her pregnancy and is pessimistic about the direction in which her life is going. She directs her frustration toward Helen, because she needs her to remain a strong role model. Seeing how Helens health and creative power is diminishing, “My Mecca is finished and with it – I must try to say it, mustn’t I? — the only real purpose my life has ever had. “(p78) Elsa is determined to remind Helen of her importance in Elsa’s life.
Elsa mentions freedom, and that if she agreed to go to “Sunshine” (the old age home) she would have given up her freedom completely. Elsa referred to the yard as being an expression of freedom, and Helen was almost willing to surrender her freedom because she was no longer able to add to her Mecca.
“I cannot say that I’m not frightened anymore. But at the same time I think I can say that I understand something now. The road to my Mecca was one that I had to travel alone… I was wrong to think I could banish darkness”(p78) Helen comes to terms with the darkness and chooses to stay in her personal Mecca. Helen helps Elsa understand the darkness and inspires her to look forward to her future, instead of fearing it.