‘Face’ by Benjamin Zephaniah digs deep into the importance of friendship and the harsh nature of modern day society. Martin, the key protagonist, finds himself in a seemingly innocent situation that leads to him being involved in a horrendous car accident, leaving him with a facial disfigurement. Zephaniah expertly creates sympathy for the protagonist by showing the challenges Martin has to go through to be accepted by himself and the harsh natured and prejudiced society.
The playwright clearly shows that before Martin’s incident, he is no different from any other teenager. He feels as if ‘trouble is never far away and to [him], well the police seemed well, … like a sport really. Like a challenge.’ This shows that before the accident, the protagonist is as mischievous and troublesome as any other boy his age. This also highlights the dramatic effect the car crash has on Martin making the audience feel sympathy for him as instead of enjoying just being young and having a bit of harmless fun, we see that what happens to him changes him completely as he has to build up his confidence and find a place for himself in the judgemental environment he finds himself in. Zephaniah makes Martin’s evolution clear through the narration employed.
During the play, three narrative voices are used: past Martin from before the crash; present Martin who tells the audience exactly how he feels during each scene and narrative Martin who comments on the events as they unfold with the ability to reflect on how his views have changed. Using this clever narrative enables Zephaniah to express Martin’s thoughts and feelings at different points of his recovery. Narrative Martin is used to show how much Martin has changed from the start of the play, pre-accident, to the end of the play at the gymnastics competition. Martin’s life is extremely confusing and chaotic as he has to try to piece together what happened in the crash and the consequences of this on his life. Subsequently, the fragmented narrative which jumps between the three voices and builds up to a complete picture of what happened the night of the crash, is effective because we have to piece together what has happened just like Martin has to. Cleverly, this means that we can put ourselves in Martin’s position and empathise with the confusion, frustration and anger he endures as he too tries to put the fragments of his life back together after the crash.
It is much later on in the play when we finally find out exactly what happened to Martin which is interesting for the audience as it builds up tension and drama effectively. When Martin is interviewed in the hospital by the police, who are also trying to work out what caused the crash, we find out why Martin was involved and this creates sympathy for him as sadly, he just made an error of judgement. He went in a car with someone he knew but unfortunately, the driver was on drugs; had stolen the car and drove erratically, culminating in the crash. Zephaniah chose to do this to warn us to think carefully before we act as even one mistake, can change our lives forever. By using flashbacks, Zephaniah cleverly creates empathy for Martin as we know what happened to him and we can understand how harmless his part in the tragedy was. When he gets in the car with Matthew, he believes ‘it’s just a lift home [and they’ll] be home in five minutes.’ Martin learns from the incident to look at a situation and to listen to others’ advice before making a rash decision. The playwright clearly wants us to consider the safer, slower choice rather than jumping into something without thinking. Unfortunately, Martin then has to deal with the aftermath of the crash when he wakes up in hospital
The playwright bluntly shows how horrified Martin is when he finally looks in the mirror after his accident. Martin is so unsure about who he is looking at in the mirror that he has to ask himself, ‘will [his] real face be underneath?’ Clearly this conveys how unaccepting Martin is of his new face after the skin grafts to try and repair some of the damage. The protagonist is in complete denial and is distressed he looks the ways he does, so much so, he doesn’t even recognise the face as his own. Showing Martin cannot even recognise himself, conjures up sympathy as we can imagine how it would feel if something so horrific happened to us and we were left with a face that they couldn’t even identify as being their own. Despite this, Martin soon realises he has to move forward and reintegrate back into society.
When returning to school, Martin experiences prejudice from other pupils such as Margaret at lunch. She states that he is ‘putting [her] off [her] food’ and this abuse and cruelty is an entirely new experience for Martin who was popular before the crash. He is shocked that she would say this to him and is really taken back by how rude people are towards him as they now judge him on the way he looks. This makes the audience feel sympathy for the changes the accident has brought to his life: he no longer fits in and is made to feel abnormal by the people around him who used to respect him.
Expertly, Zephaniah highlights a key relationship that helps Martin on the road to accepting himself. Martin would not have gone on and captained the gymnastics team without a friend such as Anthony who boosts the protagonist’s self-esteem throughout the play after they meet in the hospital ward. By talking to Martin about his gymnastics competition; that it ‘sound[ed] good to [him]’ and that he’d ‘be there – trust [him,’] Anthony gives Martin the confidence to go out and to do the competition. This is what he needed especially from someone who had been through similar experiences and knows what it feels like to have people laugh and stare.
Although Martin does go on to captain the team and is happy with the way he acted, the audience is still lead to feel sympathy for Martin through the challenges he has faced such as performing well but coming away with nothing by being disqualified. Martin feels like all his courage and strength was all for nothing as he didn’t achieve the success he wished for, but he later realises that competing in the completion and being in front of all the crowds, was a huge step forward. We still feel sorry for him as it is upsetting that his best friends turned their backs on him and no longer supported him and the biggest support he had, was from someone he had just met. Zephaniah teaches us that sometimes sadly, friendships change and this is just part of growing up, but, he also reassures us that there will always be someone there to support us when we need it the most.
Through the play, Zephaniah skilfully shows how Martin has developed from an average, popular kid to one who couldn’t even accept himself for who he truly is. Through the use of relationships and prejudice, the playwright creates sympathy for the protagonist and makes us think how we would feel if it happened to us. This teaches us the need for acceptance for all in society.
S: Definitely focuses on how we feel sympathetic for Martin and you selected valid areas to back up your points.
NS: Would benefit from more textual evidence and more exploration of the other key difficulties he faces – e.g. broken relationships with friends/Natalie. Evaluate more fully what Zephaniah teaches us through Martin’s ordeals.