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Athol Fugard's "'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys" is about Hally, a
white young man, and the damage done by apartheid and alcoholism. The play takes
place on the southeast cost of South Africa, 1950, in Hally's parents'
restaurant. This is where two black servants, Sam and Willie, work for the white
family. Sam and Willie have been a part of Hally's upbringing and are close
friends. Hally has educated Sam with the knowledge acquired from school
textbooks, but Sam has been trying to teach Hally vital lessons necessary for a
healthy lifestyle. With a racist environment and a boorish alcoholic as a
father, Sam has been a positive role model for Hally. The question would be,
could Sam's influence outweigh the negative environment, shaping the confused
boy? There are symbols in the play that illustrate the stimuli contributing to
the answer. In "'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys", one can examine
the kite, dance, bench, and disease; these are the symbols of the conflicting
forces competing for Hally's future. The kite is an object symbolic of
transcendence. Even as a child, Hally had an ingrain sense of defeat,
disappointment, and failure; that is why Sam made him the kite. He wanted the
little boy to be proud of something, proud of himself. Sam gave to him the
phenomena of flying, the ideology of climbing high above his shame. The kite
triggered neurotic thoughts but exhilarated the despairing boy. "This is
it," I thought. "Like everything else in my life, here comes another
fiasco." Then you shouted "Go, Hally!" and I started to run. I
don't know how to describe it, Sam. Ja! The miracle happened! I was running,
waiting for it to crash to the ground, but instead suddenly there was something
alive behind me at the end of the string, tugging at it as if it wanted to be
free. I looked back . . . I still can't believe my eyes. It was flying. . . I
was so proud of us. . . I would have been suicidal if anything had happened to
it"(Fugard, pp.1691-92). The kite conjured up ideas and feelings of
believing in miracles, of being alive, and free. Sam left Hally up on the hill,
with the a sense of pride, beside the bench. Hally wondered why Sam had left him
alone that day. The two of them were up there for a long time; the only bench on
the hill read "whites only". The bench is the symbol of apartheid,
division, hatred, and racism. It is apartheid that Hally hides behind as he uses
Sam and Willie as his scapegoat. Hally is filled with so much rage over his
father, he is torn between love and hate. When the conflict supernovas, Hally
lashes out on his two black friends. He tries to pretend they are not friends by
acting strictly like a boss. Carrying on with this little man routine, Hally
asks Sam to call him Master Harold. Sam would only do this if they were no
longer friends; Hally would be no different from his father. This is the case
for, when he spits in Sam's face, Hally becomes Master Harold. Apartheid is
victorious in the corruption of another white male as Hally takes his place on
the bench of segregation. "If you're not careful . . . Master Harold . . .
you're going to be sitting up there by yourself for a long time to come, and
there won't be a kite in the sky"(Fugard, p.1709). Along with the kite and
the bench, the dance is another symbol in "'Master Harold' . . . and the
Boys". After one of the phone calls that trigger his explosions, Hally,
once again, is calmed by the idealistic voice of Sam. They begin talking about
the art of dancing and how it can be seen as a metaphor of life. The dance is a
symbol of inner harmony, social peace, and a world without violence or
aggression. This is an ideal world. Sam points out that none of us know the
steps; there is no music playing, but it does not stop the whole world from
continuing. Even though there are bumps that leave bruises, life keeps on
existing. We should just learn to dance life like champions. Hally, who only has
words and books without value, falls in love with this analogy. At least until
the next bad bump -- when he has a phone conversation with his father. This
leads to Hally mocking the pretty analogy by spewing forth the idea of cripples
wrecking the dance of life contest. He is of course referring to his father and
how he has ruined Hally's life. "We've had the pretty dream, it's time now
to wake up and have a good long look at the way things really are. Nobody knows
the steps, there's no music, the cripples are also out there tripping everybody
and trying to get into the act, and it's all called the All-Comers-How-to- Make-
A- Fuck-of-Life Championships. Hang on, Sam! The best bit is still coming. Do
you know what the winner's trophy is? A beautiful big chamber-pot with roses on
the side, and it's full to the brim with piss. And guess who I think is going to
be this year's winner"(Fugard,pp.1704-05). The chamber-pot is an object of
the symbolism of disease that is prevalent in "'Master Harold' . . . and
the Boys". Hally's father is sick in many ways: he is crippled, he is an
alcoholic, and he is a racist. As a young boy Hally had to be sent to escort his
drunken father home. He imposed horrible tasks on his son; Hally would have to
clean up excrement and empty the chamber-pot of phlegm and urine. Not only
alcoholism is passed on from generation to generation; Hally was inheriting his
father's social illness of racism. The two of these illnesses blended together
to concoct something ugly. Hally's drunk father ignited his rage and apartheid
made it acceptable to take it out on Sam. Their friendship disappeared with
Master Harold's spit on Sam's face. Good did not conquer evil in "'Master
Harold' . . . and the Boys". After years of lessons and friendship, Hally
had truly learned nothing. A little boy was all he ever came to be; all he ever
would have would be words and books that are meaningless without value. He
became the man who caused his pain. Hally did not have to make the choice that
he did; two of the symbols illustrate that fact: the kite and the dance. Hally
decided to choose the negative symbols to shape his life. He chooses the bench
and the disease.BibliographyFugard, Athol. "'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys". Eds. Laurie
Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. Philadelphia: Hardcourt Brace College Publishers,
1994.
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