Master Harold and The Boys, a play by Athol Fugard

     Hello, readers! Care for a thought-provoking play about growing up? I have just the thing for you.

     A few years after the collaboratively-written play, Sizwe Bansi is Dead1, was performed at the Space Theatre in Cape Town, I was fortunate to watch rehearsals and then see the play performed in Durban, South Africa. What an experience that was! One is never too young to enjoy a good play.

     Like that play, the one featured in this post is also written by Athol Fugard. He made many contributions to the arts and helped raise worldwide awareness about South Africa. His plays were so controversial, they were often banned as subversive. I invite you to enjoy this play, widely available and presented in various formats: the 2010 South African film version 2, the 1985 TV version3, and the one I consider to be one of the best yet, the LA Theater Works production in audiobook format 4.

Characters Hally or “Master Harold” Son of the owner of the business. Sam A servant working for Hally's family. Willie A servant working for Hally's family

     Hally is a young student conflicted between love and admiration toward his adult role models, and the easier path available to him, to deal with the complexity that life presents him by abusing his power and privilege.

     The plot is uncovered against the immediate backdrops of an upcoming ballroom contest, Sam's abusive relationship with his partner, and Hally's sick, crippled and alcohol-addicted father being discharged from hospital. These backdrops are crafted into effective devices by Fugard that bring the suspense of the main conflict to his audience. The social political context is the early years of Apartheid South Africa. This reminds us of the destructive force a social context where abuse is considered normal can have on relationships and on individuals themselves.

In "Master Harold"… and the boys, Hally, aka Master Harold, turns on the person he's always felt closest to, the older man who always protected him and tried to help him grow up into a man who could hold his head up. In the totally heartbreaking and shocking climax of the play, Hally decides to try to destroy his best friend Sam; instead, he destroys his own self-respect. After his outburst, he's speechless with shame; you can tell he hates himself for it. He doesn't apologize, though. He's paralyzed by what it would mean for a white boy to humble himself in front of a black man. He turned on Sam because he could, because he knew that because of his race (and his basic decency), Sam wouldn't fight back 5.


  1. Athol Fugard, and others, 1972. Sizwe Bansi is Dead Wiki
  2. Lonny Price, 2010. Master Harold and The Boys Film
  3. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1985. TV Adaptation YouTube
  4. Athol Fugard, 1982. Master Harold and The Boys Audiobook
  5. Study Guide Shmoop
  6. Registered students can access the class library

#literaryFiction #dramaticplay

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