Master Harold and the Boys Critical Analysis

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Master Harold… and the Boys

Athol Fugard’s Master Harold… and the Boys is an instant classic that does a superior job at encompassing the complex of racial hierarchies and interracial friendships that existed in South Africa in the mid-20th century. Set in 1950 the play follows the everyday lives of its two main protagonists: Hally, a white, seventeen year old male discontented with his schooling, and Sam, a middle-aged, black servant of Hally’s family. During this period the rigid racial structure of Apartheid remained dominant in the nation, institutionalizing the already understood separation of disenfranchised blacks and privileged whites. These de jur social classifications cannot however denounce the observable friendly relationship that Hally and Sam share. With Sam practically having raised Hally due to the boy’s drunk for a father the racial tensions of the relationship seem initially to be nonexistent.

This all changes during the moment of engagement when the primary opposing force of the work is revealed: Hally’s alcoholic father is rumored to be returning home from the hospital despite his family’s cries against the act. Distraught and trapped between his filial duties and disdain for the man who neglected him, the underlying racial tensions of the play come to light with this recognition. In order to compensate for his lack of control in the situation, Hally takes to hurling insults at Sam, who is actively trying to pacify the marauding emotions of a teenage boy to no avail. The audience is left asking themselves the dramatic question: “Will Hally cross the precariously small line between venting his anger and becoming overtly racist?” More broadly as well we can ask, “What are the implications of an oppressive racial hierarchy on interracial friendships?

Within the text the protagonist Sam appears to be the voice of reason as well as the primary proponent of peace (Jacobus, 1395). From reprimanding his foil character Willie for beating...
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