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

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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How does the society in which the play is set affect the characters in "MASTER HAROLD". . .and the Boys?

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "MASTER HAROLD". . .and the Boys, the society in which the play is set is crucial to the development of character and theme.  The play is set during the apartheid era in South Africa, and the rules set forth by the apartheid system determine the boundaries of those living in that society.  Sam talks about the segregated living conditions that he has had to endure; and Hally, who has been raised in the system, does not fully understand the implications of the apartheid system.  As a young boy, Hally would visit Sam in the segregated living quarters, not realizing that it was improper for him to be there.  As he ages, Hally internalizes feelings of superiority, and he boasts about them at the teashop in front of Sam and Willie.  At the height of the play, Hally commits a devastating insult against Sam, who has been like a father to him for years.  Hally understands that racial segregation gives him power, but he does not seem to understand just how deeply this power can hurt Sam.  So, the society in which the play is set has serious implications on the characterization and thematic development of the play.

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