Master Harold and the Boys


23rd August 2003


Topic: “My plays are more than politics. But they are never removed from my homeland. My two subjects, myself and my country, are one”


‘Master Harold and the boys” is autobiographical as Athol Fugard is Hally and Master Harold in the play. It is about how the typical white person used to treat the blacks in the apartheid era. Athol Fugard was ashamed of how he treated Sam and Willie – the black men who worked for his mother. He therefore wrote this play to atone for what he did. This play is set in Hally’s mother’s small tearoom in Port Elizabeth. I will be discussing the personal dimension of the play, political occurrences and the unusual togetherness between Sam and Hally by discussing: the title, kite flying, bench, ballroom dancing and the character of Hally.


The title “Master Harold and the boys” shows us how racist the whites were in the apartheid era, every black used to be called a boy and a kaffir – throughout the play, the black men are called “kaffirs” and the blacks had to call every white Master or Madam. On the contrary, at the beginning of the play one sees how Hally gives respect to the black men: Sam and Willie, he greets them in a friendly manner saying “Hello chaps”. From this we learn that Hally is very confused, on the one hand his family is racist and hate the blacks (which is a microcosm for most white people at the time) yet on the other hand he feels a sense of pithiness towards the blacks and deep down wants to treat them as normal people.


We see that whenever the blacks tried to do something the whites used to doubt their ability, Hally doubts the ability of Sam: “What the hell does a black man know about flying a kite” but as soon as the blacks did something productive or correct the whites used take the credit. Sam built Hally a kite. At first Hally didn’t even want to try to fly it, but as soon as the kite was a success Hally said: “We’ve done it”. We see the unity and togetherness between Sam and Hally at this stage. It is amazing how a servant can become a fatherly figure. It is over here that we see that the two subjects become one, “the miracle happened”. When Hally said: “…tugging it as if it wanted to be free”, this is a reference to the entire South Africa. This is more than politics, not only did the blacks want to have freedom but many people in general have many problems in work, families and life - they have to control their kite and keep trying and believing and eventually their kite will fly just like Hally’s. In the novel the black men did all the work, without them doing all the unskilled labour South Africa would not have been able to function, just like Hally took the credit for anything the black men did in the play so too, the whites took all the credit in the apartheid error.


When Hally and Sam were going about to sit on the bench and Sam left, “I had work to do.” Hally (representing the whites) was sitting on the bench and Sam told Hally: ”if you’re not careful…you’re going to be sitting there by yourself for a long time to come”, shows how the whites can be racist for as long as they want but all they’ll be doing is sitting on the bench by themselves while the blacks advance.


At the end of the play, when the black men dance together at the end of the play and Willie says: “You lead, I follow”, this is exactly what is happening to this day, the blacks are dancing, enjoying life and their rights, just as the whites didn’t care about the blacks in the apartheid, the blacks don’t care about the whites now.


Hally is very confused and his life is a ‘storm’. We see the defiance of convention of Hally, at times Hally is friendly and caring, he says, “how’s it chaps?” at other times Hally is unfriendly and malicious: “…get on with your work…” and sometimes