"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys Questions and Answers
by Athol Fugard

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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In the play MASTER HAROLD...and the Boys is Harold deserving of the title master? Is Harold really the master over Sam and Willie, or is it because of Apartheid that he has this power over Sam and Willie?

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The play MASTER Harold...and the Boys is Anthol Fugard's own expiation of what was one of the most pivotal moments in his life: the loss of one of his best friends, Sam, and the moment when he acted like those whom he had detested the most: the Apartheid whites.

Hally, who actually represents Anthol, is the seventeen year old son of the owners of The St. George's Park Tea Room, where Sam and Willie work. Given that his parent's position in society is of power, and that he is his parents' only heir, it can be argued that one day Hally will be the employer, hence the boss, of Sam and Willie in the future. This position alone duly awards him the title of "Master", considering the English tradition of calling any young man of proper society in that manner.

However, this title of distinction is never used, nor required, by Hally at any time during the play when the three men set up a wonderful friendship. The only time that we hear the request of the title of "Master" is during the climax of the play, when Hally furiously attacks Sam verbally, makes a racist comment at his expense, and literally spits in his face.

This shift in personality is caused by Hally's learning the news of the return of his alcoholic, hateful, and abusive father from the hospital. The thought of seeing his father again sets Hally into an angry frenzy which, unfortunately, leads him to unleash his hatred and frustration at the man whom he had loved the most: Sam.

In a society broken by Apartheid, a racial slur is taken with more emotional distress than it would ever be taken in a typical setting. Apartheid did everything to break South African black men and women alike psychologically, socially, and spiritually. What Hally does to Sam is worse than being back-stabbed twice over and with more evil than can be imagined.

Hence, within the specific context of this play, it is not Apartheid that grants Hally the title of "Master", but the social differentiation between blacks and whites, rich and poor, powerful and disenfranchised, that led Hally to request such a distinction during a moment of intense frustration.

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