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

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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Describe three themes and how they play a factor within the characters in the play master Harold and the boys.

Some themes present in the play that involve characters are themes dealing with family and racism.

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Readers are often asked to analyze themes or characters of a piece, and this question isn't much different. The advantage to this question is that it explicitly tells you to analyze themes and explore characters as you do so. This is usually a fairly simple thing to do because characters often illustrate themes and themes are explored through characters. "

Master Harold" . . . and the Boys is a great play to do this kind of analysis for because the character list is very short. The entire play is three people as we never see Hally's dad or mom; however, we do learn a great deal about Hally's relationship with his mom and dad. The play explores themes dealing with family dynamics. Within the family dynamics, the play explores abuse. It becomes quite clear that Hally's dad is a terrible drunk of a father. Hally finds it great that his dad is currently out of the picture, and Hally is quite upset when he learns that his dad will be coming home. Audiences initially sympathize with Hally because of his abusive father; however, we come to see that Hally is just as abusive toward his mom. By the end of the play, Hally is even abusive to Sam who we can see is essentially Hally's surrogate father.

The play also explores themes that revolve around racism. Hally is white, and Sam and Willie are black servants. Audiences learn about societal racism when Sam explains why he couldn't go with Hally to certain places, and we hope and wish that Hally hasn't learned his society's racist attitudes. We wish this because we see the great relationship that he has with Sam. Unfortunately, as Hally's anger toward his father's return grows, audiences see Hally is just as racist as the greater society at large.

HALLY: He’s a white man and that’s good enough for you.
SAM: I’ll try to forget you said that.