Master Harold and the Boys

“Master Harold and the Boys” is written by Athol Fugard and was enacted in 1982. The premier show was held in Broadway, the venue being the Lyceum Theatre. It is a one act play on the apartheid era of South Africa.  Racism was institutionalized and this is depicted through two men and a teenage boy. The play was initially banned in South Africa. After its first staging it has seen many more and has received some good reviews. The title is a little quirky as the Master Harold is the teenager and the boys are men in fact.

A Play That Caught On After Some Years

Having lived in South Africa and seen the viciousness of apartheid being institutionalized most his plays were a protest against the discrimination. “Master Harold and the two boys” is almost an autobiographical play and it won the Drama Desk Award, Critics Circle Award and the Evening Standard of London Award. Athol Fugard acted in his plays and won critical acclaim. The play was made into a television film in the year 1985. Most of Fugard plays were shown to a select audience as the whites could not accept what was depicted in these plays at the time. It was after the apartheid era ended it was staged at prestigious venues.

The one act play “Master Harold and the boys” takes place in St. George’s Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The restaurant has no customers but there are two men. One is Willie who is cleaning up the place and the other one Sam is reading a book sitting at a set table. Both men are black and in their mid forties, working at the restaurant. Their discussion is about the dance competition and why Willie’s girlfriend has not turned up for the practice. Sam tells him it is because Willie beats up the girl when she makes mistakes. Sam tells him that he is making mistakes in the dance practice and his life by beating up the girl.

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Camaraderie Between Hally and Sam

Just then Harold, called Hally enters the hotel. He is the son of the owner of the hotel. So Hally, the seventeen year old boy is the boss and the two men are his employees; not exactly his but his parents’. But the camaraderie shared by the men, especially Sam is something special. The boss and slave attitude is not seen between the three. They discuss various issues like his lessons in school, the injustice meted out on the blacks by the whites and the good times he had with the two men during his younger days. Hally fondly remembers the day Sam made a kite for him from junk and taught him to fly it as well.

Sam had told Hally then that flying a kite means holding the head high and it meant a very special advice for Hally as it was a bad day. Since that day a special bond was created between Sam and Hally. Hally began to look at Sam as a father figure as his own father was someone he could not look up for inspiration. It was at this happy moment of recalling the past, the phone rings to confirm the arrival of Hally’s father from the hospital. This upsets the congenial mood in the restaurant. Hally is agitated and does not want his father to come and spoil his peaceful time. His father was alcoholic and a cripple, a recreation of Fugard’s father.

Anger and Hatred

When Sam and Willie try to calm him down he turns upon them and starts bickering with them. He even scolds Willie and tells him he was not doing his job properly and beats him with a ruler. Sam brings in the topic of dance and relates it to life. Doing the steps right is very essential to make the life beautiful. But Hally counters that there is always bumping by someone and that the steps is never without the bumps. He says people bump into one another, countries bump into one another and rich bump into the poor and so on.

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Then he asks how can cripples dance without creating problems and at this point Sam tells Hally not to talk of his father is such words. This once again heats up the discussion, Hally spits on Sam’s face and Sam is about to hit Hally but is stopped by Willie. Sam then calms down and reminds Hally about his younger days and the kite that was created but it does not prevail on Hally. Hally walks off not concerned about those days and suddenly turning into a white employer treating his black employees with total disregard. The play closes on this negative note and it is justified because when it was written none in Africa could see redemption to the apartheid era.

Subtle Discussion on Human Rights

Since this is a one act play the settings there are no major changes in the stage. While reminiscing the early days three of them change the restaurant arrangement to recreate the hostel they were staying in. The sound to be created is only that of a phone ringing to announce the arrival of Hally’s father. There are only three characters on stage. The presence of Hally’s mother and father is felt only through the conversation between the three. There is a fairly good character sketch of these two people especially the father. Most of the dialogues are offered to Hally and Sam while Willie chips in now and then. But at the end it is Willie who restrains Sam and Hally entering into a physical fight.

The themes that stand out in this play are that of anger and hatred. But what is highlighted is the racial injustice prevalent in South Africa during the early nineties. Hally who also believed in racial justice eventually thought it was the easiest way to vent his anger and show his power. There is sudden collapse of the values that Hally upheld. Sam finds it difficult to bring back the Hally he knew once and also realizes that he was going to follow the path of social injustice practiced by the earlier generations.