Symbolism In ‘Master Harold’ . . And The Boys Symbolism in ‘Master Harold’ . . and the Boys Ainsley Donovan 125055 English 110.6 Section 23 April 25, 1997 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.
Bibliography ( Bibliography ) Fugard, Athol. ‘Master Harold’ . . . and the Boys. Eds.
Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. Philadelphia: Hardcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.