40 pages 1 hour read

Athol Fugard

Master Harold and the Boys

Fiction | Play | YA | Published in 1982

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Racial Dynamics in South Africa

“Master Harold”…and the boys was first performed in the United States, but it is deeply rooted in the racial dynamics of South Africa under apartheid. It is about a specific place and a specific time. While racism is by no means exclusive to South Africa, Athol Fugard’s work is not a universal story about overcoming racism, but a story about the unique ways that racism shaped the lives of South Africans during several decades of legal segregation. As the play’s primary theme, racial dynamics are at the center of every interaction the characters have. Each character has his own approach to and understanding of racism. Willie does his best to fit into the role he is expected to fill, knowing that his employment and safety are at stake. He is obedient, calling Hally “Master Harold” and tolerating Hally’s cruelty without complaint. Ultimately, Willie learns that his best efforts are not enough to save him. Hally still hits him with a ruler when he gets frustrated, still tells racist jokes, and still makes a point of insulting Willie’s intelligence. No amount of obedience is enough to keep someone safe from racism; playing by the rules just means that the game never changes.