Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard

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: and

54 responses to “Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard

  1. I would not blame Hally for everything that he did. It should be no real surprise as to why in the end he transformed into Master Harold.

  2. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all been in Hally’s position at one point or another. Hally is extremely relatable in that way, we’ve all said things that hurt someone we care about in a moment of anger, and I doubt I’m the only the one who saw myself in Hally a little bit.

  3. As a seventeen-year old boy, Hally is at an important stage in his life. He is growing up and trying to decide where he belongs in the world and what he believes in. He demonstrates potential to overcome the apartheid mindset that his parents embrace. Like many teenagers, though, Hally lashes out at some of the only people who care for him and revels in his power over the black servants and lacks self-awareness.

  4. I loved the symbolism of the kite in respect to Hally’s life. The kite was a makeshift disaster created from his mother’s tattered pantyhose and parts of an old tomato box held together by a mix of water and flour as a substitute for glue. Any child who had to wave around that unsightly creation would have been flushed with embarrassment; however, Hally was overwhelmed with pride, and his only desire was to stand by his friends who had helped put together that contraption with him. If one were to view Hally’s life as a whole, it greatly resembled that of the kite. His father had become an abusive alcoholic after losing one of his legs in a war while his mother worked tirelessly in their family owned cafe. Though not at all necessarily at the fault of the father, Hally blamed him for many of the problems he had to face and even regarded him as the shame of his existence. With a broken household and an unkempt feeling of resentment towards his father, Hally had a hard time holding up his life in the same way he had held the kite that day. To take pride in the hardships and difficulties that one must face in life is a very difficult task; yet, once it’s achieved it can be the most beautiful sight to behold.

  5. It was nice seeing Hally in the beginning get along with two colored men but it was very dissapointing to see his change once he found out his dad was coming home. I wish he would of had enough courage to remain with the genuine relationship he had with them.

  6. Even though Hally was a likable character in the film, he was ultimately faced with two decisions in that restaurant; follow his past generations of racism or accept Sam and Willie as friends and ignore that the fact that the color of their skin is different.

  7. If, for your entire life, you have been told that you are different or better than someone else, you are going to act like it unless you have a serious revelation and take any means necessary to change how you think. I ultimately think that is what happened to Hally in the tearoom that night. A monster was let out and he realized how ugly his actions were.

  8. I thought that Master Harold and the Boys was a pretty good story/play. There was a few parts in the play that just blew me away. For example, one of the parts were when Hally spit on Sam’s face, that was an instant indicator that their friendship was going to end on a bad note. i did not think something like that was going to happen. To me, it gave a message about how an individual who can endure so much or be so patient before he or she realizes his or her limit and go into a little meltdown.

  9. Master Harold and the Boys was enjoyable to watch, especially when I understood that the author did this screenplay how his teenage behavior. Also , I was able to notice that this screenplay was much different from all other conflict films I have watched in this class.

  10. I thought the play was very good in the beginning because I saw what kind of friendship Sam, Willie and Hally all had and I liked it how they would discuss matters and issues that Hally would learn about in school, but when Hally was upset when his mom called about his father in the hospital and Hally’s anger gets out of hand because Sam gives him some advice not to follow in his fathers footsteps and Hally gets upset that he spits on Sam’s face. I didn’t like that in the play, but still enjoyable to watch

  11. I think this play/film displays a mix of teen angst and hatred perpetuated by society. In the play, Hally’s problem is with his father, yet he takes out his frustrations on the men around him. Hally doesn’t simply act out, he hurls out insults right where they hurt. While all previous behavior leads the audience to assume Hally does not hate Sam and Willie based on the color of their skin, Hally’s angst fits right into the apartheid system. This is exactly what Hally wants because it will hurt his friend, just as Hally is hurting at the moment. The key point about Hally’s behavior is that he had to have learned such hateful speech somewhere. It is on that point that the play ceases to be about teen angst and takes on topics such as bigotry and power.

    I think nearly everyone has been able to look back and question why he or she did certain horrible things as an angry teen. After learning more about Fugard’s background, it is apparent that Fugard is well aware of his bad deeds. As a writer, Fugard was able to channel that regret into his work, and set it against the background of a notable time in South Africa.

  12. I was amazed and was wondering how did the actors accomplish such an one play act without forgetting a line! I don’t think Hally in this play is a racist. His judgement is simply influenced by the values of the society at that time and his reaction is impaired by his anger when he spits in Sam’s face. Like many kids gone rogue, they could be very disrespectful to their parents in many unimaginable ways when they are enraged. Sam in the play is like a mentor, a friend to Hally, I believe it was a perfect example event that could’ve happened in any society where apartheid was enforced. I hope it was just an isolated event in Hally’s life.

  13. It was not until the end of the screenplay that I realized what this was about. To me this film shows how African Americans that work for white folk try their hardest to keep their children from growing up to be exactly like the child’s parents. When Sam realizes that he has lost Hally, it breaks his heart because as he said he thought he had taught him better. It is films like this and The Help that break my heart knowing that these caregivers are more of a parent to these children than their birth parents and they are not appreciated. This film shows how society can manipulate an innocent child to become cruel just to be accepted by his peers.

  14. This is terrible, this young man is not only out of line. But does he really have to treat these decent people like that? I getting from this story that, if the father was not coming home he would not be speaking this way. I feel that this is not part of this young man character, he just wants the father to think otherwise. Let us remember that a lot of whites really felt then and feel now that they didn’t think blacks should be treated that way. My hat goes off to those who gave blacks respect, this probably meant a lot then.

    • What I think is the most poignant part of the playwright’s history is that this is the story of his own life–a young white boy looking to the oldrer and wiser African man for moral guidance. Athol Fugard tells his own story of being an arrogant kid. This took great courage on his part because aparteid was part of the law until the 1990s in The Union of South Africa.

  15. Master Harold and the Boys was a great movie, that really showed the progression of Harold well. From being the innocent boy who talked to Sam and Willy as friends, to a cruel master, the viewer can easily see Athol Fugard’s social commentary on how racism is passed down through generations. I believe that it is an interesting theory which could help uncover the racism we see today.

  16. The relationships we hold with people play a big role in our behavior and our emotions. When we are surrounded by a negative person such as Harold was, we hurt ourselves and those that really care for us. I think that Harold acted very selfishly towards Sam because Sam has given so much of himself to Harold.

  17. I felt like this play was sad , I found that it’s main theme was how hate and racism is something that we are not born with but rather learn . We see this all around us little kids are not racist they do not see skin color , but as we grow up we start learning things from the people around us good or bad . I felt sad when this young man turned me his friends and started to act like they were just his servants , it made me sad to know what they were only feeling .

  18. Master Harold and the Boys was my favorite screen play that was shown in class. It was a true drama and exercised many lessons to it’s audience through symbols. The play begins to change completely as the play moves on from very happy at the beginning to very uncomfortable tension at the end. It was a very powerful play and it also spoke on aspects of racism. Obviously due to the time period racism was huge and i hope when people watch these films and read these books they can become more educated and see how bad racism really is.

  19. The play is great at describing just how things were in 1950s South Africa. The many uses of symbolism gave a more detailed and beautiful depiction of the setting. Some of the symbols used were complementary to one another. The rain helped to convey despair and anguish, but the kite helped to convey an atmosphere of light and hope. The play shows that people have the potential to be whatever they want to be, but also that a person’s environment is a main factor in determining that potential. The environments were complementary as well. At home Hally is an angry person, but at the teahouse, Hally shows the potential of being a great and kind person. A person’s environment can be toxic or it can be invigorating. Whichever environment a person is exposed to determines who that person becomes.

  20. Master Harold and the boys is by far my favorite clip we have seen in class. It was the fact that I was able to feel the pain behind Willie and Sams eyes when they were having a serious conversation with Hally about racism. I don’t hate a lot of things in life but Racism has to be the only thing I do hate. Its just so unfair to people and Hally does a good job being a villain for some time but then he realizes his actions and apologizes.

  21. Master Harold is story of how a murder in the end bring all 4 men closer together. Religion plays a vital role in the act of forgiveness as a priest remains loyal throughout the story anda racial white man soon realizes his original beliefs. If both men rejected Christian morals an act of forgiveness would have never taken place along with the reconcile with their son’s.

  22. Athlon Fugard perfectly portrayed the fact that racism is ridiculous. He speaks of Sam and Willie as intellectuals engaging Harry in intelligent conversation. Fugard also speaks of the tendency for racists to be breed not born. Harry learned to call his servants by those wretched names, degrading them without regard for them as people, from his father. Harry in an instance changed his relationship with two friends and made them less than human.

  23. I watched the video again at home yesterday and enjoyed it more the second time. As I rewatched the film I felt like I understood it better, but towards the end I felt the same as when I watched in class. It really broke my heart when Harold treated Sam in such a horrible way. This goes to show that the color of someones skin does not determine his/her character, but their actions do.

  24. Priscilla K. Cornejo

    I enjoyed watching this in class because it does leave a meaning and message but what angered me was the way Harold treats Sam because of his father. That right there is wrong and it bothered me how he spits in his face, that’s disrespect and I have no sympathy for people that think it’s fine to disrespect people in general.

  25. This play is about fathers and sons, black and white people, men and boys, and how factors can influence personalities and feelings depending upon the situation that is presented. Compassion and forgiveness can be seen in each character’s part, as communication breaks down at the end. At some parts I’m not going to lie, I was bored but I did end up enjoying it!

  26. One of the biggest reason of the war in my country is racism. Tribe to tribe fighting been going on for centuries in Afghanistan and that’s what messed up people and the next generating. I watched the exact same thing in this movie by Hally being racist.

  27. For me this movie was kind of hard to watch because of how sam andwillie were treated at the end. the whole fact that master harold didnt see what sam was doing for him really bothered me.

  28. This drama was very intense,I certainly believe people shouldn’t feel better than one another in any aspect. I also found it very unexpected how the flow of the drama changed from happy thoughts to a awkward moments in just seconds. However Harold is a very disrespectful person because he didn’t feel sympathy for his dad. Some people should not take things for granted.

  29. This screenplay was boring to begin with but it started to pick up after a while. In the beginning it was hard to follow but once it started to pick up some energy it grew easier and easier to understand. It surprised me that a play that was done in a small restaurant and only one act could tell so much. Overall it was an interesting screenplay that had a meaningful theme.

  30. I actually liked this screenplay. I thought the dialogue was very interesting and there was a lot of action in the words.

  31. The way the plot of the movie was made it depicts in effect the act dancing. For instance, it start at a slow and gentile tempo then there are those random shifts of rhythms that turns everything around which makes everything so much interesting.

  32. I loved this play the character Sam reminds me so much of my step father. I love how he shows so much compassion, patience, and understanding with Haly. He choose to be the bigger person and to turn the other cheek even though Haly was wrong. I loved how he had the ability to think about someone else’s feelings instead of being selfish and thinking of only himself.

  33. I really enjoyed watching this! The actors not only made their characters believable, but the message of the screenplay was very obvious. You don’t see things like his now a days.

  34. To be honest I found the movie a little boring at first, but as it went on it got better and better. I liked how there was so much symbolism in the story. The movie shows how much society needs the individuals units that makes it up to improve everyday so society can grow as whole.

  35. Master Harold holds a powerful message on how racism and being raised with diffrent point of views can affect a person. For instance Hally didn’t know how to act either to respect Sam or have Sam respect him, but it is mutual. These indifrences were because of racism, which is a terrible component in society.

  36. This was an amazing story because i am not going to lie it was boring in the beginning but over the time it was becoming very interesting. It really explains how things can change in just a second. It goes very in detail showing how everything around them is used as a symbol to explain how they are feeling or a certain situation is.

  37. In the beginning of this screenplay, I was a little bored and caught myself off topic. I was unsure of what the concept of the play was, but as soon as the climax reached its peak, I realized exactly what it was about. The way Sam reacted in the intense moments was inspiring. If he can react in a calm and mature manner during a racist incident like that, we can do so much more.

  38. When we watched this in class it was kind of slow at the beginning but then it built up to the point of my favorite part of Sam’s explanation of ballroom dancing. Then like the paper they were writing ‘Men of Magnitude’ it took a dramatic turn for the worst. The film proves that relationships can be destroyed with a few harsh words that can never be taken back. I really enjoyed this film and the characters in it. I might watch it again.

  39. This play was very powerful. I loved how it attacked the major issues of society in such a peaceful way and with such little effort.

  40. its crazy how a sequence of events can change this so easily as it does, from someone taking words the wrong way to treating people so bad. great drama.

  41. This is by far my favorite short story, i love the metaphors this short story has like the ballroom dancing a great metaphor for a perfect life with no collitions or bumps, which represent all the problems we face day a day. i would love to live my life like a ballroom dancing where everyone knows the steps even if no music is playing.

  42. The screen play caused you to think out of the box more than the average race or slave days. The tension between Samand Harold was so intense that i thought i was there in that restuarant

  43. In the beginning of the play it was kind of boring and slow but as it went on it started to get more and more interesting and it caught my attention more. I really enjoyed watching this play.

  44. It was sad to see Harold let his anger for his father toward Sam. Harold wants to get out of the world where racism and inequality exist and admire the ballroom dance in which nobody collide each other. But when his mom told him that his father returned to home, he gets filled with rage toward his father and realizes ballroom dance is only dream. He was so angry that he even spit on Sam’s face, but Sam try to forget about it because Sam cares about him so much. I was so moved when Sam told Harold that he doesn’t have to sit on “whites only” bench by himself, and he can stand up and walk away from it.

  45. I enjoyed watching the screen play, I had trouble at first understanding it but torwards the middle and end it became really interesting for me. The screenplay would change dramaticlly from happy moments to sad moments in just seconds. I also liked how Sam was Harrys “mentor” and would put Harry into his place.

  46. I enjoyed watching this movie in class on Friday. I hadn’t watched it in a few years and got to see things that i must have missed the last time i saw it. Oprah and Danny Glover did an amazing job in this movie.

  47. I was surprised at how interested i was in this short play. The play started of slow and did not seem to have much meaning when Sam and Willie were just discussing ballroom dancing, but I was really interested in how they used ballroom dancing to describe how the world acts. Their intellectual battles also were entertaining.

  48. I really enjoyed this screenplay! The way it was written really makes you feel as if your on a roller coaster. It has a consistent up and down in terms of tone. I liked how it would build up and then drop down only to build up a bit more and continue in that fashion. I found the final breakdown of Master Harry very interesting and I have seen numerous people go through similar and they too have done the same as Harry by lashing out at those close to them as many of us do.

  49. This screenplay was actually pretty interesting. I loved the way the characters where portrayed, and it didn’t hurt that I already liked Matthew Broderick as an actor. The central theme of fighting for equality was demonstrated very well. It took a while for me to fully understand what was going on, but in the end, I actually enjoyed it.

  50. I liked watching this screenplay. I was confused at first to whether it was ever going to leave the cafe and show other parts that the characters spoke about such as the ballroom dance or seeing Harold’s handicapped father come home from the hospital. Then it began to pick up with happy moments and sad moments and I started to get the picture. Enjoyed watching it! Hopefully the essay won’t be hard to write.

  51. When I watched this screenplay in class last Friday, at first my impression was that it was going to be boring piece of literature because the entire play takes place inside a restaurant in a rainy day. However, the intensity of the play built up gradually to the point where the tension could be felt in the classroom. Everybody was quiet and attentive to the development of the drama. I had little expectations at the beginning, but everything changed at the last quarter of the screenplay. It was powerful!

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