MASTER HAROLD...and the Boys is set in apartheid South Africa, and tells the story of a young white male (who represents the author, himself) and the way in which his once-strong friendship with two black workers at his mother's tea-shop became jarred, and broken, due to social and psychological pressures.
The main theme, therefore, is hatred in society. Apartheid was a system that purposely divided blacks and whites. It disenfranchised, humiliated, and abused blacks. In the microcosmic world of Harold's tea-shop, the men were able to overcome the social differences that would otherwise have kept them apart. However, in the end, the climactic event that makes Harold turn against his black friend, Sam, denotes that sometimes the social evil that permeates the air is strong enough to break even the strongest of bonds.
A sub-topic that stems from the main theme is the rights of all men, human rights. The entire play illustrates how the topic of race and racial superiority has to be dealt with with an extreme caution that is not normal in typical life. Why should Hally occupy a separate place in society than the workers? Why should someone's dignity matter most than the dignity of others? When Hally spits on Sam's face this premise becomes alive: the horrid reality of the violation of the rights of South African blacks was epitomized in this manner.