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Master Harold and the Boys

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Essay title: Master Harold and the Boys

In the mid-twentieth century, the country of South Africa was dominated by the policy of apartheid, a separation and segregation based on race. “Master Harold”…and the boys, written by Athol Fugard is a semiautobiographical drama which portrays what happens in a society composed of institutional anger between whites and blacks.

Master Harold, otherwise known as Hally, is the 17 year old son of a wealthy white couple who own St. George’s Park Tea Room. The play is set in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in the 1950’s. Hally wanders into the fashionable tea room one rainy day to find its two black employees, Sam and Willie, practicing for an upcoming ballroom dancing competition.

Sam and Willie have been Hally’s second family since he was an infant. Sam, the older and wiser of the two, acted as a surrogate father to Hally. He fortified the boy’s sense of well-being, while simultaneously teaching him a series of life lessons. Sam used these opportunities to teach Hally a way to escape racism, and bridge the gap between whites and blacks. All three men behave as old friends should, know certain boundaries between appropriateness and offense but continuously discover new ones.

Many of Hally’s favorite childhood memories included both Sam and Willie. One particular memory involved Sam constructing a kite for Hally. Although this served as a metaphor for joy and freedom, it also acted as an omen for racial divide. Strict policies of apartheid prohibited and governed such issues as land ownership, intermarriage, and use of public facilities. Hally was sitting on a “whites only” bench as he was flying the kite, so Sam was not allowed to sit down with him to watch it soar. Laws were deliberately set out to humiliate people of color, even to the point of determining who could sit on a particular bench.

Sam and Willie are both ballroom enthusiasts, excited about a forthcoming ballroom competition. They convince Hally to write his school paper using ballroom dancing as a metaphor for race relations. To them, dancing “is beautiful because that is what we want life (in South Africa) to be like.” Ballroom dancing offered Sam and Willie the opportunity for grace and social respect that was otherwise denied to them by society. Nevertheless, in real life “none of us knows the steps…we’re bumping into each other all the time.”

Just as imaginations and emotions are summiting, Hally receives a phone call from his mother. He learns that his crippled, alcoholic father, who is as destructive to his son as he is to himself, is about to be

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