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Symbolism In 'Master Harold' . . And The Boys
Symbolism In 'Master Harold' . . And The Boys
Symbolism in 'Master Harold' . . and the Boys
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
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.
Fugard, Athol. 'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys. Eds. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen
Mandell. Philadelphia: Hardcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.
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