Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Master Harold" and the boys

Sam. Should we try again, Hally?

Hally. Try what?

Sam. Fly another kite, I suppose. It worked once, and this time I need it as much as you do.

Hally. It's still raining, Sam. You can't fly kites on rainy days, remember.

Sam. So what do we do? Hope for better weather tomorrow?

Hally. (Helpless gesture) I don't know. I don't know anything anymore.
- "Master Harold" and the boys, p. 59

"Master Harold" and the boys is a short play that has an immense impact upon first reading. The playwright Athol Fugard manages to imagine a relationship between a boy and two Black servants in early 1950s in South Africa and make it become a universal experience that continues to resonate with readers in the Twenty-first century. I was impressed with the economy of words that were used to express multiple levels of feeling and meaning throughout the play. The culture of England, long the colonial power in this country, is also ever present in language and simple things such the names of towns.

The basic story is a simple tale of a boy, Hal, on the verge of manhood struggling with his education and his relationship both with his friends, the Black servants Sam and Willie, and his father who is nearing the end of what must have been a tyrannical patriarchy. Hal, who is "Master Harold" to Willie and plain Hally to Sam and everyone else, struggles through the issues of his relationships and what they mean until the difficulties with his father overtake him and he lashes out at the Black servants, reminding the reader that this is the era of apartheid and this is South Africa. One of the most powerful metaphors is that of the dance that is used from the opening of the play and culminates in a beautiful moment as the linchpin for transcendent beauty and the meaning of art. The day ends with tentative attempts at reconciliation, but we are left wondering whether the next day will bring a new level of maturity and hope for the master and his boys or more of the same tensions that make compassionate friendship crumble in this moving drama.

"Master Harold" and the boys by Athol Fugard. Vintage International, New York. 2009 (1982)

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