"Master Harold" … and the Boys


Athol Fugard

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"Master Harold" … and the Boys Themes

Themes and Colors
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in "Master Harold" … and the Boys, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


“Master Harold”… and the boys is a play whose story is wedded to the complex racial relationships among its three characters, the two middle aged black workers, Sam and Willie, and Hally or “Master Harold,” their boss’s son, a white teenager on the verge of manhood. The racial tension among the characters is, in turn, informed by the play’s setting and context. In 1950, South Africa, including Port Elizabeth where “Master Harold” is set…

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Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality

Abuse, oppression, and inequality are among the dominant features of the racism that “Master Harold”… and the boys takes as its main theme, but Athol Fugard also shows us that these more general aspects of racism are, to some extent, color blind. We learn very quickly, for example, that Willie’s dancing partner, Hilda, has run away because he gives her a “hiding” whenever she misses her steps, and, what’s more, his previous dancing partner…

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Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom

“Master Harold”… and the boys offers its audience and readers various models of education and experience. The official, school education Hally receives and his presumptuous and privileged attitude about it stand in sharp contrast to the self-motivation and humility Sam displays during his private, after-school lessons with Hally. The lines between teacher and student are blurred. Is Sam, the middle aged black man ignorant of his country’s geography, Hally’s student? Or is Hally, the privileged…

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Cripples and Broken Things

The most readily apparent cripple in the play, Hally’s father, isn’t just a cripple in body but, it seems due to his alcoholism and attitude, is spiritually crippled as well. He is a broken man unable to give Hally the love and affection he needs, unable to teach him moral lessons. In that respect he is like the apartheid-era South Africa in which the play unfolds. He is unable to provide Hally with much…

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Dance and Dream

Social dances like the foxtrot, quickstep, and waltz feature prominently in “Master Harold”… and the boys. The action of the play both begins and concludes with dance, and it is punctuated throughout with dancing lessons, and discussions about the significance of dance itself. Dance, it turns out, is an escape from the world as it is into a world without collisions, a world that seems effortless, an ideal, a dream. The significance attributed…

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