Light and Music in The Glass Menagerie and Master Harold…And the Boys

Light and music are two elements of drama that can become significant in developing the plot and characters. Certain playwrights may further incorporate stage lighting including directional lighting and setting lighting in order to not only divert attention to the critical area of the stage, but as well to adequately present their ideas. Correspondingly, music as well can be indirectly implemented in plays through the characters’ dialogue and allusions to musical pieces; thus, becoming symbolic. Furthermore, this music can be directly presented in the background of the play. Both playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Athol Fugard employ the elements of lighting and music in their respective plays, The Glass Menagerie and Master Harold and the Boys in order to both intensify the reality of their plays as well as develop the theme of escapism and the accompanying theme of hope and hopelessness.

Williams uses light for stage directions and as a symbol in The Glass Menagerie in order to develop his theme of hope; more specifically, to portray Laura’s ultimate sense of hopelessness. The stage directions call for “gloomy gray” lighting with a “turgid red glow” and a “deep blue husk”. This form of lighting helps construct the images of memory and its unrelenting power as well as its associated mood of nostalgia and deep melancholy. Such a mood is one that alludes to a sense of hopelessness for which Laura experiences. This hopelessness is emphasized through the symbol of light rather than the stage lighting. That is, the following simile is developed where Laura is described to be “like a piece of translucent glass touched by light, given a momentary radiance, not actual, not lasting”. Such a description not only forecasts her inability to maintain confidence but as well suggests that her beauty is innately tied to her delicacy and the disadvantage she has with her condition. Moreover, it displays the impermanence of hope in her life, as it comes as quickly as it goes. Williams further emphasizes Laura’s delicacy through another character—Jim. Upon Jim’s arrival to their home, and Laura’s refuge, there is a “delicate lemony light” that appears and eventually a soft light that brings out Laura’s “unearthly prettiness”. As the light symbolizes hope, it becomes evident that Jim provides Laura with a temporary sense of hope upon his arrival. The “lemony” or yellow color that the light is described through, however, becomes of significance as it becomes cautionary of the damage that Jim will ultimately provoke in Laura. Though Jim enlists hope in Laura by providing her with comments that temporarily raise her self-confidence, he flees abruptly, leaving Laura hopeless once again and thus sparking the argument that the play ends on a rather pessimistic note. Williams underscores this lack of hope through Tim’s physical escape from the house; that is, his attempt to escape their reality suggests that he too has withdrawn all his hope in Laura having a better, happier life.

Williams further conveys the very theme of escapism and demonstrates the characters’ abstinence from confronting reality by incorporating music in his theatrical piece. Not only does the music hold a great degree of symbolic significance, but it as well provides emotion to the scenes. In the fourth scene, for example, Williams incorporates “Ava Maria” in the background in order to allude to the harsh responsibilities that Amanda has as a mother. These responsibilities are what ultimately fuel Amanda’s desperate efforts in obtaining a better life for her daughter. In the process of doing so, Amanda feels inclined to escape her reality and own failures as well as the reality of Laura’s handicap. As Tom attempts to make his mother face the reality of her daughter’s handicap, “the music changes to a tango that has a minor and somewhat ominous tone”. The music helps to provide a worrying impression and thus demonstrate Amanda’s fear of reality and the consequences that come with confronting reality. Another character whose attitude towards reality is described through music is Laura. That is, as Jim arrives, Laura becomes terrified and begs her mother to open the door, but she refuses and forces Laura to open it. Before reluctantly opening the door, however, she winds the Victoria to play music. Laura attempts to play this music in order to escape from the intense situation—to escape reality. With Amanda escaping from her past, Laura escaping her troubled existence and Tom escaping the house with its responsibilities including the burden of obtaining a better life for Laura, the characters ultimately push each other farther apart as they retreat into their own imaginations. Hence, music aids in conveying not only the idea of escapism but as well in depicting the alienation the characters feel from not only one another, but from society as a whole.

Fugard as well employs light in his play, Master Harold and the Boys merely as a symbol for hope. When Hally and Sam discuss ballroom dancing, and whether or not dance is considered a form of art, Hally argues and describes that in his imagination, dancing simply involves people “having a so-called good time”. Sam offers another description, claiming that it Hally’s imagination “left out the excitement” and that it is “not just another dance…there’s going to be a lot of people…having a good time…party decorations and fancy lights all around the hall…the ladies in beautiful evening dresses!” The lights evidently become symbolic for positivity and hope as the description of such lights aid Sam in defying Hally’s pessimistic outlook on ballroom dancing. Fugard associates “fancy lights” with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing in order to present ballroom dancing in a rather positive and hopeful manner. By doing so, Fugard describes the dreamlike quality that the dance and dancers possess. This sort of description demonstrates the dance as a metaphor for social harmony. The symbolic element of light is again presented at the end of the play when the jukebox “comes to life in the gray twilight”. This gray light is incorporated at the end of the play in order to further emphasize the hope for such potential harmony and peace among Blacks and Whites. As gray is midway between black and white, Fugard deliberately incorporates this light as a means of conveying the hope for Blacks and Whites to come together as one. This very idea is further highlighted through Fugard’s employment of the motif of music and the corresponding theme of escapism.

Fugard uses music to not only provide movement to the play, but as well to develop theme of escapism; more specifically, escaping reality as attempted by Sam and Willie. Throughout the play, Sam and Willie practice the “waltz” and “foxtrot” for their ballroom dancing. Similar to light, music as well becomes associated with the extended metaphor of ballroom dancing. Thus, the music helps to allude to a dreamlike, collision-free world by which the dancers are capable of enlisting order in a disordered world, and respectively, an ideal society with no “collisions” between Blacks and Whites. Sam and Willie use music and ballroom dancing to escape their realities; however, Hally interferes with such an escape as he claims “The truth? I seem to be only one around here who is prepared to face it. 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 up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it’s all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-[Mess]-of-Life-Championships.” As music becomes a symbol for escaping reality, Hally specifically indicates that there is “no music” in order to suggest that escaping reality is impossible. Fugard does not, however, allow these words to convey his final message. Rather, he officially ends the play with lyrics of a song sung by Sarah Vaughn called “Little Man, You’ve had a Busy Day”. This song becomes significant as it suggests that Hally is the little man who was compelled upon adulthood. The little man in the context of the song is in tears because he lost his toys; this seems so simple and foolish to the adult but heartrending to the child. Rather than neglecting his child or disregarding his sadness, the father comforts the child and suggests for him to go to bed. Correspondingly, Sam, who is presented as the ‘father’ of Hally provides him with unconditional support, and suggests for him to sleep so as to allude to escaping the harsh reality of the apartheid system. Though insulted by Hally’s spitting, he ultimately does not lose hope on Hally waking up and realizing that he can control his life and personal decisions and overlook the system of apartheid.

Both Athol Fugard and Tennessee Williams develop the theme of escapism and theme of hope and hopelessness in their plays Master Harold and the Boys and The Glass Menagerie through their incorporation of light and music in the form of stage directions and motifs. Though there is an evident similarity in the manner by which the two playwrights develop these themes, there is also an apparent difference in the final meaning that the two are attempting to convey. That is, Tennessee Williams uses light to convey a sense of hopelessness while Athol Fugard employs this light to leave the audience with a more hopeful attitude towards the future by the end of his play. Williams’ use of light helps justify the characters’ desire to escape their reality and retreat into their fantasy world. Because there is no hope in enhancing their lives, all the characters cope through a complete escape. Fugard offers an antithetical message; rather than the characters’ hopelessness propelling them to escaping their reality, it is their ability to escape the harsh reality of the apartheid system that provides them with hope.

The difference in the two plays is further understood through the macrocosmic vision that the two playwrights allude to. In The Glass Menagerie, Williams portrays a sense of hopelessness and an ultimate desire to escape in his play in order emphasize the way in which individuals viewed the 1940s as an exciting escape from the 1930s. Hence, Amanda, Laura, and Tom become associated with other Americans in the Great Depression who sought relief from their distressing lives by escaping their reality through films, false identities, and fantasies. By making such an association, Williams demonstrates the negative affect of The Great Depression. In Master Harold and the Boys, Athol Fugard ends on a more optimistic note in order to send out an anti-apartheid message—a message that transcends the norms of South Africa at the time. He encourages the fight against the racial segregation as he suggests that society can be a whole and can be harmonious if Blacks and Whites function in unison with each other. Thus, it becomes evident that the manner by which the two playwrights present their themes in their plays correspond with their macrocosmic visions—with and without hope.

Master Harold and South African Apartheid

Athol Fugard’s play, “Master Harold and the Boys,” is at its core a play that examines the complex race relations between two black servants and their white employer and the conditions of South African apartheid. The excerpt from “Master Harold and the Boys” sheds light on the psyche of individuals during apartheid in South Africa, revealing the injustices of the times, the capacity for hope, and the fragility of friendship.

Athol Fugard uses an extended metaphor to illustrate the injustices of apartheid in South Africa. In the passage, Sam, a black servant employed by Hally’s family, compares living life peacefully to a graceful dance. Sam comments that “we’re bumping into each other all the time.” The act of “bumping into” someone does not refer to the physical action, but rather paints a picture of conflicts of that people have with each other. Sam mentions countries bumping into each other, personifying countries as individuals with their own problems. This is external conflict; conflicts that arise from doing everything wrong and without guidance, or as Sam explains, from not knowing the steps and a lack of music. Sam hints at the external conflict between countries and even socioeconomic classes, but not whites and blacks. Sam’s omission of a statement depicting blacks and whites is surprising due to the fact that the context of the play revolves around this race relation. However, Sam declares, “We’re sick and tired of it now.” The word “we’re” signifies that Sam is a part of a group that is tired of all the bumping, tired of all the conflict. With that subtle word yet profound shift, Athol Fugard has shifted the reader from external conflict of the surrounding environment to the conflict within the psyche of those oppressed under apartheid. The use of the word is ambiguous. Sam does not directly expand on the group he includes himself in. through inference, Sam is referring to Blacks living under apartheid. Collectively, they have suffered the injustices too long. Sam presents Halley with questions about how long he must remain a second-class citizen and Hally can only reply with admiration for his “vision,” sadly one-step above being just a dream. The shift, from hope to desperation, established a tone of surfacing frustration. Sam’s language changes, and rightly so, as he pleads for an answer to all his woes. Athol Fugard uses an extended metaphor and a shift in tone to illustrate the injustices of apartheid in South Africa and the conflicts brewing, externally and internally.

The universal capacity of hope of a people enduring tough and arduous circumstances is revealed through an extended metaphor and the response of the other character present, Hally. Similar to Hally, the reader and audience may wonder why Sam and Willie value the dance competition so much. Previously, Hally insults Sam unknowingly by saying the dance is not beautiful. To Sam, this is like saying a peaceful coexistence is not beautiful because Sam has equated a peaceful life to dancing. Sam cherishes his “vision” of life without bumping into other people, without conflict, without apartheid. Sam illustrates the capacity for hope. He is an older man who has lived under apartheid his entire life, not seeing an end. Still, he finds hope through dancing and enjoying the life that he has. Sam holds frustrations as to when these conflicts will end, but by holding onto dance, he holds onto his vision of a life without injustices. Fugard again takes the reader and audience on a journey through the psyche of a people suffering under tough circumstances. The dance represents a life without apartheid, the life that Sam wishes he had. However, Fugard subtly contrasts Sam and Hally and their perspectives on the word. Sam possesses an optimistic outlook on life. On the other hand, Hally possesses a pessimistic attitude. Hally only sees people bumping into each other. Sam sees the bumping, the conflicts, and the struggles but still continues to hope for something better. Fugard illustrates the importance of having hope and a vision of the future when faced with tough circumstances. Hally, because of his pessimistic attitude, cannot confront his problems directly and seems to be a ball of string slowly unraveling. Sam, although he is less educated and less valued in society, still enjoys his life and has a strong resolve. The comparison of the two attitudes and their respective emotional conflicts show that hope is a necessity when faced with struggles. Through Sam’s wishes for the future, Hally’s negative and contrasting attitude, and Hally’s deep admiration for the Sam show that the capacity for hope is a necessity when dealing with life situations and is a feature of the plight of South Africans suffering under apartheid.

Furthermore, Athol Fugard exposes the fragility of friendship through the relationship between Sam and Hally. Sam and Hally’s friendship is rooted in a long history of continually spending time together. Hally recalls memories with Sam as if Sam was his biological father. In this passage, Sam and Hally talk to each other freely, free of the restraints of race because they are good friends. In the stage directions, Athol Fugard depicts the “deep and sincere admiration” Hally has for Sam even though he is a black man. The relationship between Sam and Hally seems built upon a strong foundation. However, the Whites only bench that Sam is forced to leave Hally sitting on as a child foreshadows the end of the relationship between the two individuals. Hally brutally insults Sam and uses racial slurs and jokes to degrade him during a fury of anger and frustration at his biological father. The end of the relationship between Sam and Hally shows the fragility of friendship when a tender nerve is hit—that tender nerve being race. If Sam represents a capacity for hope, the Hally represents a capacity for hate. This broken relationship between Sam and Hally, which capsizes in a few moments, forces the reader an audience to reexamine their own views on racism. What would it take for anyone to cross the same thin line that Hally crossed? This passage and its relationship with the text as a whole shows that friendship is fragile, especially when in the minds of some individuals lies anger hate and racism.

“Master Harold and the Boys” examines the relationship between the races in South Africa during apartheid and submerges the reader into the psyche of those experiences this historical era. Fugard, with his poignant and carefully chosen words, expands on the injustices of apartheid, the necessity of the capacity for hope, and the fragility of friendship when battling deep-rooted beliefs such as racism. Fugard paints a picture of apartheid while simultaneously confronting the reader with choices such as right or wrong, hope or hate, and compassion or racism.

Power and Privilege in Master Harold and the Boys

 In “Master Harold”… and the Boys, black Africans are treated as though they are not as important as the white Africans. Fugard represents black Africans as people who have been disenfranchised, segregated, and less privileged in an attempt to show the struggles involved with apartheid. Fugard does this through the symbolism of the bench and the ballroom dancing as well as through the conflicts between characters.

In the beginning of “Master Harold”…and the Boys, Sam is trying to teach Willie how to dance. Ballroom dancing symbolizes a world without conflict. Sam says, “it’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead like you said Hally, we’re bumping into each other all the time” (Fugard 46).  Sam believes that apartheid is the result of people bumping into each other, which leads him to say that ballroom dancing, is like a world without collisions; when two people dance, they do not bump into each other, but simply dance. Because Sam is dreaming of a world without the collisions, which in this case refers to apartheid, it suggests that Sam has had a hard time as a result of apartheid.

Sam’s dream not only suggests how Sam feels about apartheid, but also causes conflict between Sam and Hally, as Hally doesn’t agree with Sam’s idea of ballroom dancing. Because of the way Hally delivers his argument, he suggests that Sam is less educated than him, which furthers the idea of black African disenfranchisement within the education system during apartheid. Here, Hally is suggesting that Sam is less educated, stupid, and dumb which may be contributed to what Hally has been taught to believe. Even though the author shows the readers that Sam is educated through Sam’s reading of comic books and his conversation on the Men of Letters, the idea persists within Hally’s mind that Sam is uneducated. The educational disenfranchisement of black Africans led to a shift in public opinion about the education levels of non-whites, as demonstrated by Hally’s misconstrued perception of Sam’s education.

During an argument, Hally demands that Sam call him Master Harold and to refer to his father as his boss: “He’s a white man and that’s good enough for you” (Fugard 53). Fugard uses Hally’s language and tone to convey Hally’s superiority over Sam. Although Hally’s father is cripple and an alcoholic, Hally views him as better than Sam because he is white. The narrative of whiteness trumping every other personal characteristic further paints the picture of the limited privileges black Africans had during apartheid. Black Africans also recognize the power disparity that is dictated by skin color. Sam tells Hally, “because you think you’re safe in your fair skin” (Fugard 56). Here, Sam implies that Hally is protected because of the color of his pale skin and further elucidates Fugard’s demonstration of black African disenfranchisement.

The symbolism of the park bench may be one of the most important literary elements used in this play, as it symbolizes apartheid. When Sam and Hally fly a kite together Hally sits down on a ‘whites only’ bench, forcing Sam to leave the area. Later Sam says, “I couldn’t sit down and stay with you. It was a ‘Whites Only’ bench” (Fugard 58). This shows segregation as well as suggests that blacks are seen as less than whites. Sam’s departure also examines the effect of segregation on Sam and Hally’s relationship, which represents the larger problems of relationships between blacks and whites. The existence of segregation put a strain on their relationship, which ultimately led to a major argument and the end of their relationship.

Fugard portrays Black Africans as less than their White counterparts to show the effects that apartheid had on different relationships. The author uses the symbolism of the ballroom dancing to demonstrate that black Africans, such as Sam, dream of a world without conflict because of how they have been treated under apartheid. The bench symbolizes apartheid as well as demonstrates how blacks are less privileged by showing that they cannot share a bench with whites. This too damages the relationship between Hally and Sam. Fugard uses these symbols to demonstrate the ways that apartheid can affect people and their relationships, as well as show his negative viewpoint upon the subject of apartheid.

The Symbolism of Ballroom Dancing

In the play “Master Harold… And the Boys,” ballroom dancing extends far beyond jazz music, swishing skirts and sashaying couples. It takes on a universality of meaning as a symbol of a “world without collisions,” an inherent desire, a dream, an inspiration, which – even if it is not fully understood – must surely be shared by all men. In the historical context of the play, a “world without collisions” implicitly refers to a South Africa without any traces of friction between the different races. It raises questions as to whether or not this is a mere fantasy. Hally’s relationship with Sam and Willie reflects humanity’s potential to dispel racial boundaries, and this encourages the audience. Simultaneously, however, the play casts a shadow on our hopes as a rift is created between them, and we are left to wonder if it can be healed. True to this ambiguity, Hally “oscillate[s] between hope and despair for this world.” Hally’s cause for despair is his unsatisfactory father who is a self-centred, drunken cripple of a man. Although he is not directly present in any scene, his presence permeates through the play in the form of Hally’s bitterness and hostility. Hally’s initial skepticism of the kite, for instance, gives the reader considerable insight into his past: ‘…I thought, “Like everything else in my life, here comes another fiasco.”‘ This comment demonstrates the way in which Hally’s self-esteem has been damaged over the years through his father’s trials and tribulations which he has shouldered as his own from a tender age. Despite Hally’s disappointments, there is clearly hope in his life; this lies in his relationship with Sam, a relationship which, unknowing to him, has sustained and nurtured him from a tender age, alleviating a great deal of the pain caused by his father. His hope seems especially to bubble to the surface during his “man of magnitude” discussion with Sam. There is an abundance of evidence in this dialogue that Hally too has ambitions for the world, for he assures Sam, “But things will change, you wait and see. One day somebody is going to get up and give history a kick up the backside and get it going again.” Yet such moments of optimism are fleeting – they are always intruded upon, interrupted by Hally’s mother’s phone calls, which serve as a reminder of the adversity in his life with his father.In the opening of the play, as Hally comes in from school to find Willie and Sam practicing their quickstep, he applauds and declares “Bravo! No question about it. First place goes to Mr Sam Semela.” This displays his friendly interest in the lives of the boys and his mild, indulgent approval of their ballroom dancing. In addition, the sense of indulgence creates an impression that he greatly enjoys playing up to the role of the indulgent white master. It is after Hally’s first phone conversation with his mother that the audience can discern that his mood and views are subtly changing. However, he recovers enough from his disappointment to eventually, if grudgingly, take a deeper interest in the whole notion of ballroom dancing. Hally, with his intellectual airs and graces, his intriguing combination of precociousness and naiveté, initially dismisses the activity as being “simple – like in simple-minded, meaning mentally retarded. You can’t exactly say it challenges the intellect.” Nevertheless, Sam is “adamant” in his considerable wisdom that ballroom dancing has its merits because it is “beautiful” and “make[s] people happy.” Hally concedes, partly due to Sam’s persistence, and partly due to the fact that he wants to “teach the old bugger [his English teacher] a lesson”. He upgrades the dancing competition from a “simple” entertainment to a “cultural event,” even if he does ponder whether he is “stretching poetic license a little too far.” Clearly, his curiosity has been sparked, yet perhaps there are other factors which contribute to his appreciation. Hally decides to write about the dance competition for his school essay on an event of cultural or historical significance. This is provocative to his white English teacher who “doesn’t like natives.” Presumably, Old Doc Bromely would view it as highly improper to consider any event of the black community worthwhile. Hally attempts to elevate the importance of the contest so that his teacher cannot refute the fact that, technically speaking, “in strict anthropological terms the culture of a primitive black society includes its dancing and singing.” Yet the use of the word “primitive” is less than flattering, and Hally’s thesis that “war-dance has been replaced by the waltz” carries connotations that the backward tradition of “war-dance” has been replaced by a more civilized, if intellectually dry, activity. For a coloured South African audience, Hally’s statements, although well-meaning, seem too academic, aloof, and of course, uncomplimentary. Just as Hally “oscillate[s] between hope and despair for this world,” the audience continually alternates between encouragement from his honest, liberal views and disappointment in his air of white superiority, which is ingrained in him and perhaps only half-realised. Even as Hally writes the report, we see that he has a tendency to grasp any possible negative side of a situation quite quickly, for he immediately asks about the “penalties” for “doing something wrong” while Sam informs him of points scored for positives such as style and rhythm. Hally’s question amuses Sam, but his reply is strikingly profound: “…that dance floor is like…like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don’t happen.” This is a key point in the play; Hally is now truly moved by the idea of ballroom dancing, for he exclaims in a tone which seems devoid of anything but pure admiration, “Jesus, Sam! That’s beautiful!”Previously, when the dubious Hally disagreed with Sam’s opinion that dancing was an art, he provided a definition of art as “the giving of meaning to matter,” or “the giving of form to the formless,” he defined it as something which “goes beyond that [beauty].” After Sam’s impassioned speech we realize that ballroom dancing is in reality an art. Those formless dreams of mankind which we find so difficult to make tangible, so difficult to capture in words finally take shape; they take the form of the enchanting figures on the dance floor. Ballroom dancing is the embodiment of the dream of a “world without with collisions.” It is the very language of this deep-rooted dream, a dream decorated with music and “fancy lights” and “ladies in beautiful evening dresses.” But is this elaborate vision enough to overcome the horrific real-life images of black slavery and jail torture and “strokes with a light cane” which Sam previously describes to Hally? One wonders whether or not Sam’s fanciful ideas are a reflex mechanism to deny the hopelessness of the situation, or genuine inspiration to somehow heal the wounds of apartheid, or, possibly, an indefinite merging of the two motives. Whatever the answer, Sam’s vision of ballroom dancing is definitely more than ornate; it transports us out of the microcosm of St. George’s Park Tea Room and takes us around the world as he explains, “America bumps into Russia, England is bumping into India, rich man bumps into poor man. These are big collisions, Hally. They make for a lot of bruises.” Our awareness of the world suddenly increases exponentially as we realize the turmoil that constantly surrounds us. Returning to the play, set in South Africa, there is also discernible turmoil in the apartheid atmosphere; however, the play portrays this in a subtle manner. Hally and Sam’s enthusiastic talk of Mahatma Gandhi and General Smuts “trying to teach people to get the steps right” reflects South Africa’s need to take the right step to abolish racial segregation. It is notable that Gandhi and General Smuts both possess much stoicism and hence partake in passive resistance, as opposed to radically aggressive plans for immediate social change. This closely echoes Sam’s attitude. It would be highly interesting to hear the individual views of a black audience – would they largely be in support of Sam or General Smuts’ passive resistance, or would they favour a more vigorous approach?Digging even deeper, Sam’s “world without collisions” may have a personal meaning for all of us. His words seep into our spirits as he asks, “Are we never going to get it right?… Learn to dance life like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it?” For Hally, in particular, caught in “deep and sincere admiration of the man,” Sam provides inspiration and a “little surge of hope.” The adversity in Hally’s life has led him to believe to a certain extent, as he mentions earlier, “It’s a bloody awful world when you come to think of it. People can be real bastards.” He is, on the whole, somewhat doubtful about revolution and fanciful dreams. Sam presents Hally with the encouragement that “it [change] starts with that [dreams]. Without the dream we won’t know what we’re going for.” He believes that dreams must come before change, in order to fuel change. Hally is heartened and we sense his growing hope: “You’re right. We mustn’t despair. Maybe there’s hope for mankind after all.” For a South African audience, this may be taken as inspiration to persevere in the challenge of destroying apartheid. For his part, Hally brightens up enough to go so far as to support the boys in their pursuit of dancing and dreams as he adds, “Keep it up, Willie.” Unfortunately, this promising moment is another short-lived one for Hally as he receives the second phone call from his mother. His disappointment explains his oscillations “between hope and despair.” “Just when you’re enjoying yourself, someone or something will come along and wreck everything,” he says. His optimism transforms into complete negativity as he crudely reduces the vision of a “world with collisions” to “just so much bullshit.” He then proceeds to create his own bitter interpretation of ballroom dancing where “the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act,” and the competition is renamed as the “All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-Fuckup-of-Life Championships.” Finally, the prize at the end of the competition is a “beautiful big chamber-pot with roses on the side, and it’s going to be full to the brim with piss.” As well as symbolically serving to introduce doubts for a “world without collisions,” the reference to cripples and chamber-pots is an obvious slander to Hally’s father. Alongside passing on chamber-pots filled with bodily wastes to his son, as Hally is more often than not put to the task of cleaning up the mess, Hally’s father passes on his mental contamination — his racism, such as his crude “nigger’s arse” joke. The harshness of Hally’s words powerfully jolt the audience into wondering if Sam’s dream is merely wishful thinking. Will the mentally “cripple[d]” apartheid supporters invade our idealistic dance floor and ultimately prove our efforts to be futile? Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel or does it all lead to nothing but a chamber-pot “full of piss” for black South Africans? The audience is presented with a real mental conflict here. Furthermore, Sam, a coloured man, has taken the liberal white view – it is one of European romanticism – while Hally, a young white boy, has conversely adopted the cynical outlook which one would expect from an oppressed black slave with a depressing past history.For Sam and Willie, ballroom dancing is a symbol of their brotherhood as well as a kind of Utopia – particularly for the coloured race. Conventionally, ballroom dancing is a white man’s pastime and therefore shows that black culture in South Africa is in some ways very dominated by that of the whites. However, this need not necessarily be interpreted as unfavourable; perhaps there is an indication here that in time both races can come to not only tolerate – as in the manner of Hally – but actually appreciate the other’s presence and traditions. After a bewildered Hally departs, Willie gestures for Sam to dance and says “Let’s dream.” He is offering comfort and friendship to Sam, and another chance to try for a world without collisions. For black men such as themselves, a “world without collisions” is also important as it refers to a world in which they do not face any hostility from white men. Specific to the play, Hally in essence disapproves of apartheid arrangements, and we see this in his admiration of men such as Winston Churchill. Regrettably, he is unable to fully break free from the typical white colonial attitudes of the time. He stumbles and gives in, pouring out all the bitterness that has accumulated in him onto Sam. He succeeds only in marring his relationship with the older man, thereby hurting himself in effect. Hally has disappointed the audience’s expectations. The former white would-be revolutionary has sunk to becoming a confused, empty shell of a creature, damaging his relationship with his black allies, and indeed, his only allies. We now wonder if Hally’s cynicism has ultimately proved more appropriate than Sam’s vision. However, all is not lost. Willie’s metamorphosis at the end of the play comes both as a pleasant surprise and a renewal of hope. We are initially introduced to him as he is struggling to perfect his quickstep, and Sam’s criticisms are that he is “too stiff,” and that he needs to realise that the “ballroom must look happy…not like hard work.” This is parallel to the philosophy that the peace and harmony of a “world without collisions” should come naturally without being forced, just as Hally’s friendship with the boys comes naturally – regardless of the final outcome. Another point for Sam’s criticism is Willie’s physical abuse of Hilda, which is perhaps the result of an internalised aggression of apartheid. It is a possibility that the members of the poverty-stricken, exploited black classes of society subconsciously release their miseries by taking them out on each other, rather than on the white population. Whatever the cause of his violent behaviour, Willie is resolute in his intentions as he tells Sam, “tonight I find Hilda and say sorry. And I promise I won’t beat her anymore.” This potential for reconciliation between Willie and Hilda echoes the potential for reconciliation between the black and white races of South Africa. In addition, Willie has absorbed Sam’s wisdom of allowing the romance of ballroom dancing to shine through, as demonstrated by his simple, touching words: “Let’s dream.” The impulsive gesture of sacrificing his bus money for a jukebox tune shows his genuine willingness to keep the dream alive. Willie’s initial appearance in the play was as a clumsily aggressive, inarticulate man but by the end he becomes much gentler, and gains greater eloquence. On a similar note, Hally also undergoes a transformation – although his change is unfavourable in its nature – from a bright, if naïve, young boy to a wretched disappointment. Thus, there has been a major turnaround with both characters.”Master Harold… And the Boys” opens and closes on oscillations “between hope and despair.” Hally’s fall is a reason for despair, considering his earlier glimpses of potential and his (momentary) enthusiasm for a “world without collisions”. Yet although Sam’s vision of ballroom dancing has been wasted on its intended subject, Willie on the other hand has benefited greatly from it. Finally, we are left with a poignant image of Willie and Sam swaying together in unity, and in the pursuit of their dreams, as the “machine comes to life in the grey twilight, blushing its way through a spectrum of soft, romantic colours.” As Sarah Vaughan’s voice sings “Better go to sleep now/Little man you’ve had a busy day,” one is put in mind of a lullaby, for the lyrics sympathise and soothe. “Little man” is a likely reference to Sam, who has indeed had a long day, emerging with both victory and defeat. The music – the sounds of dancing and the sounds of the dreams of a “world without collisions” – plays and the light from the machine softens the dull grey of the evening into colours of beauty. The picture is one of gentleness and tranquillity as the play closes and we leave the realm of St. George’s Park Tea Room.

A Pivotal Moment

In the lives of all, one will inevitably have a figure or figures in their lives to whom he or she looks up to. This may be a parent, educator, older sibling, or even peer. While it is always beneficial to have role models, at one point or another, an individual must grow up and take the spot that he or she was filling for oneself. These role models cannot and will not continually provide wisdom, guidance, and assistance for one’s entire life. Therefore, there must be a pivotal moment when the impressed is no longer under the molding of the impressor. He or she must grow up. This type of impressed and impressor relationship may be seen in the play”Master Harold… and the Boys,” authored by Athol Fugard, between Hally and Sam. Towards the closing of the piece, an argument occurs in which Hally recognizes that he cannot always look up to Sam. He experiences an epiphany wherein he must finally grow up and out of his boyish ways. This conflict, in a nutshell, is Hally’s pivotal moment.

Throughout the play, flashbacks through storytelling occur wherein Hally and Sam reflect on memories with another; ones that often have stemmed from Hally’s family life. It is understood that not only is Hally’s father is sick, but also a habitual alcoholic. Throughout the course of his upbringing, he was forced to care for his father and essentially be the man of the house. The only exception to this was when Hally was with Sam, a black South African worker. With Sam, Hally was able to maintain his childhood. Sam preserved the boy’s childhood through chess, kites, and hiding (from his mother). Therefore, upon hearing that Hally’s father would be returning home, his childhood is ripped away once again. This time, at seventeen, for good. Being that he is an intelligent boy, he comprehends the implications of his father returning. He may no longer be a boy; he can no longer associate with Sam, Willie, or other black South Africans; he must not let his father see how little respect he demands from this uneducated and lesser men. He must become a man to not only please his father but also impress him. Hally attempts to accomplish these things through the argument with Sam. He rationalizes that if he can mangle and distort the relationship, ignoring it will be much simpler for him.

In Hally’s eyes, this transformation will undeniably redeem him. It will undeniably make his father love him. If spitting in the face of his only friend and father figure will gain the respect of his father, he will do it. In each and all situations, one will choose the respect and admiration of an authority figure. It will never matter the relationship with the former man. An individual will always step into a role that places him or her in a better light with one that may have power over them. Sam has no hold over Hally; both of these men understand this simple fact. Therefore, the breaking of the relationship is justified in Hally’s mind. He knows that through this argument, he will not lose any respect or power from those who can take it away. Sam does not have any social or economic standing with those who matter in this skewed, racist society. If severing ties with Sam will, in the end, benefit Hally’s relationship with those in power, he does not recognize the fault in doing so.

As stated above, while Hally’s relationship with his father is mangled, he continues to desire to impress him. His father has more power and respect than anyone else in this boy’s eyes. This fact allows him to easily grant power and authority to his son. As Hally argues with Sam, he comprehends the importance of this power, this authority. He shifts drastically in order to fill a role set before him by his father. As assumed this role is one with no place for Sam. Therefore, Sam and Hally must not have a relationship. They both see Hally growing until he no longer fits in the mold Same impressed on him. He cannot and will not fit into the old shoes of his boyhood. There is no longer any time to be playing with kites as Sam so deeply yearns for. Instead, Harold, not Hally, must pull on new shoes to fill the role of a white man in South Africa wielding power and authority as his father desires him to.

Apartheid as a Cycle of Abuse in ‘Master Harold… And the Boys’

Athol Fugard’s 1982 play “Master Harold”… and the Boys takes plays in a 1950’s South Africa suffering under the Apartheid act and tells the story of a white seventeen year-old boy, Hally, as well as two of his parents black servants, Willie and Sam. The play begins with a more light-hearted tone, as Willie, Sam, and Hally dance together and have a wonderful time, which hints to the audience that Apartheid is not the way life should be. However, as the play continues Hally receives two phone calls from his mother regarding his father. The first phone call dampens his mood significantly, but after the second phone call Hally’s outlook is completely changed from what it was in the beginning of the play. He no longer treats Sam and Willie well and is no longer optimistic about race relations.

Hally’s phone call with his father is used as a device to show audiences that, much like Hally’s relationship with his father, Apartheid is damaging, toxic, and perpetual and systemic abuse. One of the clearest effects the second phone call has on Hally is the sense of fear it instills in him through the rest of the play. His sense of fear is initially present in the phone call itself, particularly through the lines “(Loudly) I said I hope you know what you’ve let us in for! It’s the end of the peace and quiet we’ve been having… (Softly) Where is he? (Normal voice) He can’t hear us from in there” (Fugard 48). In these lines, Hally goes from brashly and “loudly” yelling at his mother to “softly” asking where his father is. Only after Hally hears that his father is in another room does he return to his normal speaking voice. His inability to even speak above a whisper when he thinks his father might be in the same room as the phone truly shows how much fear of his father Hally carries. The difficulty Hally has in using his voice around his father speaks volumes about how toxic and damaging their relationship must be, and the same toxicity is paralleled later in the way Hally speaks to Sam and Willie. Once they get into a disagreement, he lashes out them, saying “My mother was right. She’s always warning me about allowing you to get too familiar” (Fugard 53). Despite the excellent discourse they had in the beginning of the play, Hally has been muted by his fear of his father, and so he feels the need to mute others around him who he feels superior to, as a bully would.

The phenomenon of cyclical abuse has been well documented, and a recent study conducted by psychologist Barbara Lopes corroborates the idea that Hally’s fear leads him to treat Sam and Willie differently, as she writes “Bullying has been considered as a traumatic experience that can lead to paranoid ideation” (Lopes 254). Rather than seeing Sam and Willie as the friends they were before the phone call, Hally becomes paranoid and pushes them away to forcibly create distance in the same way he feels distanced from his father. The toxic power dynamic between Hally and his father is further evidenced by the moment Hally speaks directly to his father. Hally spoke to his mother in a mostly normal way, though he was very much on edge. However, when Hally’s father comes on the phone, the stage direction reads “(When he speaks again, his tone changes completely)” (Fugard 49). Hally’s complete change in tone is indicative of a deep-seated problem between he and his father, as it indicates that Hally does not feel he can be himself around his father, and likely feels incredibly insecure around him. His insecurity is further evidenced by Hally awkwardly calling his father “chum” despite clearly being in constant fear while talking to him (Fugar 49). Much like his fear, he takes out his insecurities on Sam and Willie, particularly in the line “Jesus, I wish you would stop trying to tell me what I do and what I don’t know” (Fugard 54). Sam and Willie are only trying to help in that moment, but Hally feels the need to lash out at them, largely due to the inferiority complex his father instilled in him. Hally’s inferiority complex reaches new heights when he tells Sam “To being with, why don’t you start calling me Master Harold, like Willie” (Fugard 54), seemingly only to further assert his dominance over Sam and to feel some semblance of power following a conversation with his father in which he felt utterly powerless.

Literary critic Errol Durhach takes note of Hally’s shift in attitude in his writing, particularly in a passage that reads “Like quicksilver, he shifts from intimate familiarity with his black companions, to patronising condescension to his social inferiors, to an appalling exercise of power over the powerless ‘boys’” (Durbach 506). Hally’s attitude shift is certainly appalling, in much the same way the way Hally’s father treats him is appalling, and though there’s no excuse for it, audiences can see that Hally’s mistreatment of Sam and Willie is his way of (poorly) coping with his abusive father. Perhaps the most unfortunate and disheartening aspect of Hally’s father abusing Hally is that Hally is resigned to it. In one line he voices his true opinion of his father, “Then you and the nurses should have held him down, taken the crutches away,” only to immediately retract his statement by saying “I know only too well he’s my father” (Fugard 48). Hally has feelings of rebellion towards his father, but ultimately, he holds them inside and outside of a moment of expression, he is totally resigned to the status quo. After the end of the phone conversation, he tells Sam and Willie “Life’s a fuck-up and it’s never going to change…There’s no maybe about it. It’s blunt and brutal fact. All we’ve done this afternoon is waste our time” (Fugard 50). Not only is saying something is “never going to change” about as resigned to a situation as someone can get, he applies the sentiment towards repairing race relations, which Sam, Willie, and Hally were doing through dance earlier in the play. As critic Shon Yoonhee puts it, “The re-creation of their joined history combines moments of enthusiasm and illumination with a reflective sense of the meaning of each remembered occasion,” (Shon 84) so in fact, the discourse in the beginning of the play was not useless, and in reality, progress and mutual understanding is never a waste of time, yet Hally has been made to feel it is because he is resigned to the world being unfair and inequitable due to the unfair and inequitable relationship he has with his Dad.

The phone call at the end of “Master Harold”… and the Boys demonstrates how the cycle of abuse is so damaging and contagious it can hinder relations between people who would otherwise get along. It breeds fear, toxicity, and resignation to a broken system. Furthermore, Fugard uses the second phone as a greater metaphor for the effects of Apartheid on the general population of South Africa. People began to fear one another because they were separated and inevitably felt the fear of the unknown, which (for some people) led to a toxic bitterness between races, and an overall resignation to Apartheid being the status quo. Fugard’s metaphor and allegorical device is extremely potent, and now doubt showed audiences all over the world how damaging Apartheid is, and moreover how damaging any relationship can be when people do not approach each other with open minds, and when people forget to forgive.