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The play “Master Harold”… and the Boys”, by Athol Fugard, illustrates life in South Africa under the apartheid rule. The play is written in the South African context and the issue of apartheid is central in the play. The play is an informative and autobiographical one-act play about the relationship between Hally, Willie and Sam. Throughout “Master Harold”….. and the Boys, Fugard describes many emotions that take place between the characters, to which different reactions are noted. The primary emotions in the play are love, happiness and anger.
In each, the reactions can be seen as good and bad.
Racial prejudice was very common and constantly relevant during apartheid rule. The consequences were enormous for the Black society, who were basically kept in prison on native land. The Whites determined their lives, educated and passed down laws for Blacks. Thus the relationship between the two controversial racial groups in most cases was not very good, because life of a Black native South African was oppressed.
The three most significant characters of the play are Master Harold, member of the White race and also referred to as Hally, secondly the Black Sam and thirdly also a Black servant named Willie.
Both Sam and Willie are servants working for Harold’s family. The typical relationship between a Black and a White during apartheid rule was very distant. The Whites were the dominant people, acting as masters while the Blacks were seen as naturally inferior and thus were oppressed. The relationship between Hally and Sam, however, does not follow the typical pattern.
Their relationship is a friendlier and open one. Sam, unlike his colleague Willie who calls Hally “Master Harold,” refers to the White teenager simply as Hally.
This was obviously not very common during apartheid rule, with most Blacks finding themselves in the same position as Willie. Like most Blacks Sam is uneducated. However, he is interested in learning and gains his personal education from Hally’s textbooks which he brings home after school. Their friendly relationship can be exemplified by their dialog held throughout various educational topics and world significant figures. Throughout this dialog both Sam and Hally set forward arguments trying to check the other and both characters succeed in winning over one argument over the other person.
This illustrates their friendship, because Hally accepts Sam’s choice of Alexander Fleming as a man of magnitude. First of all, most Blacks at that time would probably never know who Alexander Fleming was and his significance in contribution to medical advancements and secondly at all it was through Hally that Sam gained such knowledge. This example underlines the significant difference in communication relevant in Sam and Hally’s relationship compared to other White-Black relationships during apartheid rule. Sam, even though a black has been helping the white boy Hally as a mentor and a moral guide.
They have been living as friends despite the gap that exists between them as people of two races. Natural human qualities manifest in their relationship. Though Hally has been culturally and psychologically conditioned and trained to think of himself as superior to the black characters, the time he spends in their company has helped develop his emotional attachment to Sam as a moral teacher. Though a black, Sam provide the white boy with sincere and responsible parenting. It is ironic that a black man in apartheid South Africa has the inner core and strength to teach living skills to a privileged white boy.
After the second temper flair up in the play, the tempo settles again, where Hally, Willie, and Sam discuss the dance and Sam gives his metaphor on dancing. Sam’s engaging and subtle analysis of the dance contest for which Willie practices as a symbol of a harmonious world where no one “bumps” into anyone else, not onlyt hat tells us that Sam is intelligent and perceptive, but also helps Hally to realize that black South African culture is not as primitive or empty as he has been told. For Sam, the dance represents the possibility of integration, just as he, the expert dancer, has integrated white education with black know-how.
Yet Hally refuses to learn to dance. Our only hope is that this is a result of his evident immaturity, indicated by his frequent inability to see the implications behind what is said and done, and not a sign of an irredeemable adherence to racist ideology. The tension seems lost – that is, until Hally gets another phone call home from his mother with the news that his father is indeed coming home from the hospital. The reader can sense another shift in tone from Hally; he is cold to his mother, and when he is put on the line with his father, he hides his unhappiness and pretends that he is fine.
After the phone conversation, Hally insults Sam’s dream of a world without collisions and becomes incredibly nasty to Sam. He has changed again, and all because of the news of his father’s return. This conflict is the greatest in the play, much larger than the two that preceded it. Hally expresses his disinterest in his father, until Sam defends him, and Hally loses control of his emotions. At this point, both Sam and Hally are “dancing” too fast to stop from colliding with each other. While previous collisions could be avoided, both Sam and Hally take it to the extreme.
When Sam is instructed to refer to Hally as “Master Harold,” the reader can sense that the tension has been ramped up so much that there is no going back to the way things were before. One realizes that an argument was inevitable, and while they hoped that it wouldn’t result in conflict, it now must be carried on. Hally brings the tension to an even higher level when he spits in Sam’s face – the physical abuse was hinted at in the play earlier, but the direct assault is too much, and it requires Sam to do the one thing that he thinks will hurt Hally the most.
Sam tells the kite-flying story again, but this time from a different perspective. He remarks that the reason he couldn’t stay with Hally when he was flying the kite was because it was a white’s only bench, segregation that Hally hadn’t realized when he was younger because he didn’t know it was a choice to either accept or not accept whites. The story helps to show the toleration that Hally used to have towards blacks and his growing feelings of superiority later in life.
Sam has tried to teach Hally of what it means to make that choice between what is right and wrong, but Hally has not learned, which mimics Hally’s feelings of his failure to teach Sam earlier in the play. Sam, long a victim of these official and traditional policies, has attempted to transcend the hatred and anger. He acts as a surrogate father to Hally, fortifying the boy’s sense of well?being (both through kind acts such as building the kite and through allowing the boy to teach him what he learned in school) and imparting his wisdom to Hally in a series of life lessons (his dance hall metaphors for peaceful coexistence). There’s no collisions out there, Hally. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That’s what the moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like . . . like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don’t happen… It’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be like… ” The fact that a seventeen?year?old can spit in the face of a black man without even the thought of repercussions shines a harsh light onto the institutional policies of hatred that were fostered in South Africa during the apartheid era.
At seventeen, Hally is an intelligent and sensitive individual, which makes the fact that he reverts to a racist stance all the more disturbing in its implication of the depths to which prejudice runs in South Africa. Under stress, his racist training sadly wins out over his humanitarian instincts. The white superiority on which apartheid rested is exposed as a sham, and Fugard suggests that through better education and communication it could be combated. The spitting on Sam by Hally is pivotal in the play and hints to the forthcoming of all that is bad in the world.
It shows how deep rooted and inbred the emotions and training of a white apartheid world was against the black community and that Hally, still has it deep inside of him even though he thought himself to be above all these petty sentiments. To take a direct quote from the book with Hally saying “I know, I know! I oscillate between hope and despair for this world as well, Sam. But things will change, you wait and see. One day somebody is going to get up and give history a kick up the backside and get it going again. ”
It does show Hally willingness for a better world but in the end his long instilled racism wins over his long cherished friendship with the one man that cares for him and acts as a true father figure in his life. In this pivotal scene where Hally spits in Sam’s face, it is Willie who groans (“long and heartfelt” according to the stage directions); It is Willie who stops Sam from hitting Hally; it is Willie who says that If Hally had spit in his face, he would also want to hit him hard, but would probably just go cry in the back room. Ultimately, Willie crystallizes the emotion of the play “is bad.
Is all bad in here now”. The closeness and oneness of the two races brought by the kite flying story seems to come to an end with the spitting and impulse of a young person. Willie’s last few comments hints to the end of the perfect friendship of Sam and the now “Master Harold”. Hally’s disabled father embodies the whole apartheid system, his debilitating illness a metaphor for the racism that held South Africa back for so many years. Yet he is afflicted by more than a bad leg: he is also a drunkard, prone to borderline psychotic ranting against blacks and insistent that Hally accepts his racist outlook without question.
His attitudes have emotionally influenced his son, even as Hally intellectually recognizes them to be false and prefers the more educated, non prejudiced ideology of Sam. When frustrated by his father’s limitations, the son behaves with the same prejudice, using Sam as a scapegoat to draw attention away from his own insecurities. This, Fugard suggests, is the central impulse behind apartheid: aside from the economic advantages of keeping blacks poor so they can be better exploited, it allows whites to cover up their own shortcomings by a pretence that they are superior just because they are white.
Hally can either follow his parents’ lead or try to right the wrong, but if he chooses the former he will end up as bitter and twisted as his father. The confrontation between Sam and Hally is sparked by the conflict within Hally between the corrupt legacy of apartheid he has inherited from his birth father and the more humane education and moral guidance he has received from Sam, his preferred father figure. The conflict between the two begins verbally, but escalates to such outlandish gestures between them as spitting from Hally and Sam baring his buttocks.
It becomes uncertain where they can go next. Sam’s decision to eschew violence and attempt to renew their relationship is a positive one, but it is one for which Hally is evidently not yet ready, as Willie suggests by emphasizing Hally’s youth. The “boys” of the title, refers to the adult males, Sam and Willie, as they are disparagingly called by many whites. But Sam, especially, despite the evident limitations of his life (he works in a tearoom), has a composure and intellect that belie the white assessment of blacks as inferior.
Although the seven-year friendship between Sam and Hally may seem incongruous, given their backgrounds , this is overshadowed by the delight both gain from their interplay. For the most part, these two display both affection and respect for each other. Sam is more aware of the fragility of their relationship than Hally, but he maintains a faith that it can survive, which is supported by his evident love for the boy. Two central metaphors used by Fugard are the kite and the dance. The kite represents the hope of racial cooperation.
Sam designs, builds, and flies the kite, despite young Hally’s doubts and embarrassment over the project. Its flight marks a positive moment for Hally, who expects to be “perpetually disappointed. ” Yet the young Hally misses the significance of the memory. Sam had made the kite to cheer up Hally after they had been to a bar to carry home his drunken father. The kite was meant to teach Hally to look up, rather than down in shame. But Sam now reveals something of which Hally had been unaware; the bench to which Sam had tied the kite was “Whites Only,” and only Hally could sit on it.
Sam insists Hally is now old enough to open his eyes, stand up, and walk away from such benches, and thereby discard any intolerance of racial prejudice. The aftermath of the spitting scene, however, is far more destructive than any punishment, as Hally must carry with him the knowledge that he has gravely wronged one of his truest friends. Sam’s lesson helps Hally, however. He understands what it means in the dance of life, of trying to create the perfect dance – to not bump into one another.
The play is all about the bumps and bruises of life, and the conflict in Master Harold shows the reader just how easy it is to make that collision — but it also shows how one can avoid it. But for us the readers we come to know, through the ending and through the non apology of Hally, even though Sam calls him Hally again instead of “Master Harold” that the once perfect union and friendship has developed an irreparable crack and life will no longer be the same for them.
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