Tthe following is commentary on the play Master Harold and the Boys from the website Library Thing.
South Africa, 1950. Sam and Willie, black men in their mid-forties, are working at a tearoom. The men are practicing for an upcoming ballroom competition when Harry, the white seventeen-year-old son of the owners, arrives from school. Harry and Sam engage in intellectual sparing as they discuss men of magnitude. The lively conversation turns into reminiscing as Sam remembers his first interactions with Harry. The tone is friendly until Harry receives news that his father is leaving the hospital to return home. Harry’s mood turns sour, and he takes his anger out on Sam and Willie. The angrier Harry gets, the uglier his behavior becomes, and Sam and Willie are faced with humiliation as Harry repeats his father’s language of the apartheid. A line is crossed that will forever change Harry and Sam’s relationship.
Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”…and the Boys is a one-act play that exposes the injustices of the apartheid system. The grown men know that standing up to the teenager’s humiliation would mean paying a price too high that neither one can afford. It is hard not to cringe when Harry devolves into a bigot and repeats the words of his father to subjugate Sam and Willie. The tearoom becomes a microcosm of a country where policy dictated one’s place in society based on one’s skin color. The play is a study in power—who has it and who does not, and the implications to interpersonal relationships. Harry sees himself as Sam’s mentor, therefore in power; when Sam seeks to dissuade Harry from speaking poorly of his father, Sam’s reaction is to dig deep into the discourse of bigotry to put Sam back in his place. The play offers rich material for discussions about racism, bigotry, power, and human relations. (5 stars)
Here are two more good websites about the play: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/fugard.html and http://steppenwolf.org/_pdf/studyguides/master_harold_studyguide.pdf