Athol Fugard

’s Master Harold…And The Boys Essay, Research Paper

In “Master Harold”…and the Boys , Fugard shows us the human potential for racism and social unrest in all of us. Through the use of metaphor, he paints a picture of the present state of human relations. He reveals the psychoses inherent within the human condition that make racism and political strife possible. At the same time, Fugard also reveals how simple it is to resolve humankind’s problems of hate, prejudice, and oppression. This simplistic revelation optimistically intends to convey how illogical and absurd it is not to seek and maintain interpersonal, political, and interracial peace and goodwill.

The principal metaphor that Fugard uses in “Master Harold”… and the Boys displays a microcosm of relationships among people or groups of people. This microcosm is demonstrated by the activity on a ballroom floor, namely, at the Eastern Province Open Ballroom Dancing Championships for which Willie is practicing.

This microcosm may be seen in different manners and different levels. On page 46, Sam illustrates his idealized scenario of this microcosm on a universal level as he explains to Hally that collisions do not take place at the championships: “And it’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be.”

Sam then goes on to illustrate the real-life scenario on a personal level, explaining interpersonal disagreements as collisions on the ballroom floor, such as collisions among Sam, Willie, Hally, his mother and his father. Expanding this metaphor to the international level, Sam proceeds to talk about how America “bumps” into Russia, and about England “bumping” into India. Making sure not to deny the obvious, it would be wise to assume that Fugard intended to address the racial aspect of this microcosm.

Within this principal metaphor are contained symbols that represent the certain elements which often stand in the way of the idealized scenario of peace among people. One thing that gets in the way of Willie’s progress in learning the foxtrot is that Hilda often misses practice. It is revealed that the reason Hilda does not come to practice is because Willie beats her every time she makes a mistake. Not only does this beating cause an endless chain reaction of mistakes followed by beatings, but as Sam says on page 7, it “…takes the pleasure out of ballroom dancing.

This faulty relationship between Willie and Hilda is not just an example of sexual oppression, but it is also symbolic of the ongoing racial and political oppression that has taken place throughout history. Willie and Hilda’s relationship can be seen as an element that would truly cause a great deal of shame and embarrassment in the middle of a political, racial, or interpersonal ballroom floor.

Another element that stands in the way of the idealized scenario of peace among dancers on the ballroom floor is cripples. In “Master Harold”…and the Boys , these cripples stand for those individuals who do not give themselves any self respect. The cripples in this play happen to be Hally’s father, and father-figure, Sam. On page 57, Sam, of all people gives a rather graphic account of an incident in which Hally’s father needs to be carried home from a bar in which he had ended up miserably drunk on the floor. Sam recalls,

I felt for that little boy…Master Harold. I felt for him. After that, we still had to clean him up, remember? He’d messed in his trousers, so we had to clean him up and get him into bed.

Sam could tell that it was difficult for Hally to respect his father. It is difficult for a boy to respect his father when he allows such shame to happen to himself through drinking.

In “Master Harold”…and the Boys , Sam acts more like a father to Hally than does Hally’s own father. Sam comes across as a character who is very intelligent and perceptive. It is very touching to see how he gives the boy unconditional love throughout the whole play. In his father-figure relationship with Hally, it would seem that Sam would know better than not to have respect for himself as an example of how to be a man.

Analyzing the play a little more closely, however, one would see otherwise. Sam does not allow himself as much respect as he should. On page 46, where Sam is discussing his metaphor of interpersonal relations and conflict, he says,

I’ve bumped into Willie, the two of us have bumped into you, you’ve bumped into your mother, she bumping into your dad.

However, Sam never says that Hally has bumped into him. On page 54, when Hally demands that he be addressed as Master Harold, Sam says, “If you make me say it once, I’ll never call you anything again.” Depressingly, on page 59, Sam placatingly calls over to Hally and says, “Stop…Hally…” From Hally’s point of view, one would observe that a man who fails to stick to his word in this manner is a weak person unworthy of respect.

The issue of respect is essential in looking at this microcosmic metaphor for relationships on all levels. Because Hally loves his father so much, he finds it difficult to respect a man who lacks the dignity to control his drinking. One of the ramifications of Sam’s lack of self respect is the lack of respect that he receives from Hally. This lack of respect from all sides can foster many animosities, thereby causing a multitude of collisions on the ballroom floor.

Through this use of metaphor, Fugard helps make it easier to locate the roots of the obstacles which get in the way of peace on many levels of relation. On page 60, Willie offers to begin making a change, saying that he will apologize to Hilda and that he will not beat her anymore. He assures Sam that everything will be allright, hoping for better conditions tomorrow. Through this simple act of apology he decides to amend the past by working on the future. Willie gives an example of hope for the championships, and at the same time, a metaphorical hope for mankind.



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