Major Themes


Boyhood and Manhood

In "MASTER HAROLD"…and the boys, Fugard turns the notion of traditional adult and child roles on its head. Hally is in fact only a child but because of his status as a white person in a racially divided society he is given the status of "Master", a title that holds a great deal of authority. Sam and Willie are referred to as "boys" in spite of the fact that they are both grown men and have had more life experience than Hally. Just as Hally is elevated to the role of "Master" because of his race, Sam and Willie are not given the respect of being "men", but rather "boys" because of theirs.



Fugard demonstrates how the fractious and disruptive effects of apartheid challenge all notions of traditional relationships. Hally views himself as Sam and Willie's teacher because he has been given more formal education than they have. He is interested in social theories and is coming into a greater awareness of the world. However, Hally is still in need of learning the ways of the world he lives in, and not just theoretical ones. When he recounts how Sam helped him built a kite in the park and then had to leave him, Sam is the one who informs him of the real reason why he couldn't stay. Hally's childhood memory is that Sam had to go to work, but because Hally was sitting on a "Whites Only" bench that day in the park, Sam would not have been permitted to sit there with him. While the social and political climate of South Africa has made it possible for Hally to view himself as more knowledgeable than Sam or Willie, it is Sam who teaches Hally about the harsh realities of the world


The Personal and Political

The conversations Hally, Sam and Willie have with each other are about the daily events and problems in their lives. Willie is desperate to win his ballroom dance competition, Hally must complete his homework and deal with his father's return from the hospital and Sam is concerned that Hally show respect for his father in spite of his failures. Underneath the personal issues that affect all these characters, the political climate in which these characters live is apparent. Ballroom dancing serves as a metaphor for a world in which the disruptions that occur in daily life under apartheid don't exist. Hally uses his problem with his parents as an excuse to lash out against Sam and Willie, who are both his only friends and also the only two people Hally feels he has any control over. Hally's intensely personal family issues become a reflection of how he was raised and explain why he treats Sam in such a demeaning and discriminatory way. When Sam reacts to Hally’s racist joke by dropping his pants, he is stepping outside the formality and level of reverence society insists he show to Hally, or any white person. Fugard merges the political with the personal most poignantly when Hally and Sam recount their different experiences of the same event.


Hally lacks the life experience to fully understand why Sam couldn’t stay with him on the park bench that day, while Sam understands all too well. What Hally has gained in book knowledge he lacks in knowledge of the world around him. Another reason Hally perhaps cannot understand is because he experienced the day in the park from a privileged position he has been in all his life, a privilege his race has afforded him. Hally has never been barred from any public space; he has never not got what he wanted from Sam and Willie. Sam’s experience of this happy memory for Hally is tainted by his exclusion from it since he was not allowed to stay with Hally. Fugard makes a powerful statement that every relationship, experience and memory is affected by the political climate in which it exists.