The play “Master Harold” and the Boys”, by Athol Fugard, illustrates life in South Africa under the apartheid rule. “It would mean nothing has been learnt in here this afternoon, and there was a hell of a lot of teaching going on “one way or the other,” (p.59) quoted by the Black servant Sam, demonstrates the differences in mentality, opinion and social relationship the inferior Black racial group held compared with the dominant White race. 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 Willy. Both Sam and Willy are servants working for Harold’s family. The relationship between Hally and his servants, Hally’s childhood experience, White mentality towards Black society and true friendship will be discussed throughout the following paragraphs.
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 more friendly and open one. Sam, unlike his colleague Willy who calls Hallly “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 Willy.
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 (p. 16-24). 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 SamТs choice of Alexander Fleming as a man of magnitude. First of all, most Blacks 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.
Throughout his childhood, Hally spent a lot of time at the “servant’s quarter” after school when he was bored or when his parents did not have time to occupy themselves with him. Also, he used to hide there from his mother. At the “servant’s quarter,” both Sam and Willy used to occupy themselves with Hally, entertain and play games with him. During this time the three experienced many things together, such as their interest in boxing, dancing, and checker games. Hally enthusiastically recalls this period and describes the environment in great detail. This underlines the fact that Hally did enjoy the spent time with Sam and Willy. It is given the impression that Hally in reality did not mind having Blacks as friends and did not see them as his family’s servants. However, throughout the plot of the play, Hally’s attitude takes a change and illustrates the White dominant racial mentality towards the Blacks.
The White mentality can best be demonstrated and described by the kite story told (p.28-30). Hally as a young boy once again was spending time in the “servant’s quarter” one afternoon when Sam had built him a kite out of a Tomato-box, wood, brown paper, glue made from flour and water and two of his mother’s old stockings for a tail. Even though Hally had a brotherly, friendly and open relationship towards Sam, he was embarrassed and concerned about being seen flying this kite built by a Black. His worries were simple. If a kite was built by a White and it didn’t fly properly, nobody would say anything. However, if a kite built by a Black failed to rise high up in the sky and fly, White society would criticise the unintelligent Black. It can be assumed that Hally trusted Sam, be he simply did not want to admit it in front of the Whites and risk being embarrassed by his race. However, in the end Hally does choose to fly the kite and overcomes the social barrier dividing the White from the Black race. This concept becomes more relevant towards the end of the play.
Another example illustrating White mentality could be Sam’s comparison of a beautiful life with a dancer (p. 45). Sam describes his illusion of two champions dancing on the stage, which he considers as a beautiful sight. He says that Blacks simply want their lives to be beautiful, even thought they are aware that reality demonstrates the opposite. Hally’s final responds to Sam’s desire is brutal (p. 51). Hally forces Sam to live in reality and to accept the fact that in reality there are no illusions, since there will always be a dance couple making mistakes and tearing apart the image of a perfect beautiful dance. The plot in the play is followed by a quarrel between Sam and Hally, in which Hally reveals the typical White racial side of his character marked by the society he has grown up.
However, even though Hally discriminates against Sam and treats him wrongfully towards the end of the play, Sam reveals himself as a true friend and a fighter for justice. Sam’s lecture (p. 56-58) confronts Hally with the reality and Sam’s true friendship is being offered to him. At the end of the day, Sam wanted to prevent Hally from being ashamed of so many things, such as his ill father and in fact of himself. Sam never wanted Hally to be ashamed of himself. The audience or reader is later acquainted with the fact that the bench Hally sat himself on holding Sam’s kite was a “Whites Only” bench. As a child Hally was happy sitting on that bench with something giving to him from a Black servant. Later in his life this is no longer the case and that is something Sam had always tried to prevent. Sam brings back peace between Hally and himself by offering him another kite flight and assuring Hally that he will be waiting for him to come back to him whenever he wishes. “You don’t have to sit up there by yourself. You know what that bench means now, and you can leave it at any time you choose. All you’ve got to do is stand up and walk away from it,” (p. 60). This illustrates the idea that Hally in reality cannot be categorised as a member of the “Whites Only” group. Hally does respect Sam, who as a Black man at the end of the day has taught the White boy a lesson.
In conclusion, “Master Harold” and the boys”, by Athol Fugard illustrates different concepts and discusses several themes relevant throughout the apartheid rule. The author illustrates the Black society in a different light than the common categorisation made by the dominant White group. This is done through the illustration of a Black-White friendship led by Hally and Sam, which however is somewhat marked by prejudice from the White side. However, in the end it is the White who has learnt a lesson from the Black, contradicting the usual constellation that Blacks are educated by Whites.
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