Master Harold... and the Boys | Study Guide

Athol Fugard

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Mar. 2019. Web. 5 Aug. 2020. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, March 29). Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 5, 2020, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide." March 29, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2020.


Course Hero, "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide," March 29, 2019, accessed August 5, 2020,

Master Harold... and the Boys | Symbols



Ballroom dancing in "Master Harold"... and the Boys symbolizes people's capacity for harmonious coexistence. When Sam suggests Hally write his homework essay about the 1950 Eastern Province Dance Contest, Hally is initially skeptical. Then Sam explains the dance contest is different from everyday life. So expert are the dancers that no one ever collides on the dance floor. Sam contrasts dancing with the rest of life, which is full of conflict: "America has bumped into Russia ... rich man collides with poor man." Sam proposes people could learn how to get along from dancing: "Learn to dance life like champions instead of always being beginners at it." Hally then proposes essay titles that make the symbolism clear: "Global Politics on the Dance Floor" and "Ballroom Dancing as a Political Vision."

Sam and Hally's discussion of dancing also shows how the activity symbolizes the role of art in life. When Sam says the collision-free dance floor is like a dream, Hally wonders if that is such a great thing. What is the point of "dreaming about the way [life] should be," Hally wonders. Sam replies, "it starts with that," with dreaming. Thus art gives people an image of the ideal something to work toward.

"Master Harold"... and the Boys is a drama, so it is full of "collisions," to use Sam's image for conflict. But in another way, the play is like the dance contest. It shows men reconciling with women, a son finding another father, and a white boy learning to see past his privileges to the humanity of another person. "Master Harold"... and the Boys is a mild play; there is almost no violence in it, and many of the conflicts are mended or potentially mended at the end. But this is its strength: it is an anti-apartheid play that does not revolve around black bodies suffering violence.


In "Master Harold" ... and the Boys, both main characters face oppression, but in different ways. Hally is oppressed by the shameful burden of his father's drinking. As a black man in 1950s South Africa, Sam experiences oppression by apartheid. The kite that Sam makes for Hally is a symbol of liberation for both characters.

Hally's father's drunkenness has caused Hally to feel shame since boyhood. After an episode when Sam has to carry Hally's drunk father home, Sam silently promises he will help Hally rise above the shame he feels. Soon after making this promise, Sam makes a kite and flies it with Hally. This kite symbolically lifts Hally up from his shame. Because it yearns skyward, the kite is a symbol of the longing for liberation. As Hally says, "there was something alive behind me at the end of the string, tugging as if it wanted to be free." The play's symbols are not overtly religious, but the kite moves in the transcendent realm of the sky, the place of the miraculous. "I don't know how to describe it, Sam!" Hally enthuses. "The miracle happened!" says Hally of flying the kite.

The fact that the liberation of Hally and Sam will have to be a do-it-yourself project is also symbolized by the kite's humble origin. Sam can't buy a kite, so he makes one out of scrap materials. This embarrasses Hally at first, and he describes the kite as a "poor thing" made of "tomato-box wood and brown paper." These humble materials, combined with the kite's "miracle" of flight, symbolize Sam's and Hally's need to participate in their own liberation.

Later they tie the kite to a bench and Hally doesn't realize the seat is reserved for whites only. Sam must leave, and Hally continues to watch the kite float in the sky. The kite, which has brought young Hally such joy, now flying over the bench where his friend Sam is not permitted to rest tells readers to remember to look beyond our own joys and recognize when others are being treated unjustly.

Whites-Only Bench

After the exhilaration of flying kites, Hally ties his kite to a bench so he can rest, and he doesn't realize the bench is marked "whites-only." The bench is part of the system of racial domination called apartheid. Sam and Hally had been having fun together, but as soon as Hally sits on the whites-only bench, Sam must leave and their friendship is suspended. The whites-only bench in the park symbolizes the social space reserved for white people in apartheid South Africa. The bench is on a hill, symbolizing the position of privilege granted to white people in South Africa. The segregated space provides comfort and ease to white people, symbolized by the comfort of the restful bench for the tired Hally. But segregation also harms white people, as symbolized by Hally's loneliness and frustration when Sam leaves him on the bench.

Finally, the whites-only bench symbolizes white people's choice to participate in apartheid. Hally did not choose to be born white in South Africa. But as he grows older, he has a choice about how to participate in upholding white domination. As Sam tells Hally, using the symbols of the whites-only bench on the hill, "You don't have to sit up there by yourself." Now that Hally knows what the bench means—racial domination—he can leave, says Sam: "All you've got to do is stand up and walk away from it."

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Master Harold... and the Boys? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!

Stuck? We have tutors online 24/7 who can help you get unstuck.
A+ icon
Ask Expert Tutors You can ask You can ask You can ask (will expire )
Answers in as fast as 15 minutes