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

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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What is the significance of the historical context and its effect on 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 historical context of the play is particularly important as the story is set during the beginnings of South African apartheid. The present line of the play is set during 1950, which is the same year that the Population Registration Act was put into effect in South Africa. All citizens had to register as a specific racial and ethic group for the purposes of segregated living, working, and socio-political conditions. Hally learns from his father the ugly face of racism as his father challenges Hally to take control at the tea shop. But even before 1950, segregation was enforced, and Sam refers to the "Whites Only" bench in the park that he obviously could not sit on while flying the kite with Hally when he was little. As a young boy, Hally did not understand the segregation and oppression of people based on race, but as a seventeen-year-old at the start of legalized apartheid, Hally knows that he has the power of white privilege. A major ethical dilemma in the play revolves around Hally's choice of whether to "sit on the bench" and assume his privilege or to follow the teachings of social reform that Sam has been trying to teach him, allowing him to do what is humane.

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