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    Racism in African society and its effect on the character of Hally in ‘Master Harold’ … And the Boys Essay

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    In the play “Master Harold” …and the Boys, Hally demonstrates, through repeated acts and expressions, the sentiment of the entire African society at the time the play takes place. In 1950, the policy of apartheid was beginning to be practiced in South Africa. The Population Registration Act was passed, which divided the population into four racial groups Post 112. The Group Area Act of 1950 controlled ownership of property by different races. The 1950 amendment to the Immorality Act prohibited sexual contact between different races. These are the attitudes of the time.

    Yet, in the beginning of the play, the reader does not sense the separation of Hally and the two black men that later is blatantly portrayed. In fact, we come to learn that Sam and Hally are so close that Hally would actually spend a lot of his time as a child in Sam’s room, where they and Willie would play and talk often. So, for part of the play, Sam and Hally reminisce of the old days. For example, there was one time when Sam built a kite out of brown paper and tomato-box wood pasted together with flour and water and with a tail of Hally’s mother’s old stockings.

    Hally loved the kite once it was in the air and had a lot of fun with it. Hally almost wishes that he could return to those times because that was a time when “life felt the right size”. Fugard 379 Unfortunately, Hally’s mood changes drastically throughout the play. When his mother calls from the hospital with news that his father may coming home, Hally quickly becomes very sharp with the two black men. For example, he says to Sam “Tell me something I don’t know, Sam. What the hell do you think I was saying to my Mom? All I can say is fuck-it-all. Fugard 387 One of the first derogatory remarks that Hally makes towards Sam comes shortly after Hally’s first telephone conversation with his mom.

    He says “Don’t try to be clever, Sam. It doesn’t suit you. ” Fugard 397 We can determine by his mood shift and by his attitude on the phone with his mother, that Hally doesn’t want his father to return home for some reason. We find out that his father is a drunken cripple, who has caused Hally shame for most of his life. The play recalls one instance which caused a young Hally to be ashamed of his father. Sam had to carry Hally’s father home from a bar because he had passed out drunk. A crowded main street with all the people watching a little boy following his drunk father on a nigger’s back! ” Fugard 649. Sam realized that the drunk was no person to be teaching Hally to be a man.

    That is why he made the kite. So Hally would have something to look up to and be proud of, instead of ashamed. When they were flying the kite together, Sam tied it to a bench and said he couldn’t stay. Hally was too young to realize it at the time, but that was a white-only bench. Sam could not stay. This is one example of the restrictions put up between blacks and whites in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

    The Separate Amenities Act would subject a black man to fines of up to fifty pounds or as much as three months in jail, simply for sitting on a white-only bench. That is the circumstances that Hally grew up around which forced him to have the same kinds of racist views as the rest of the society he lived in. Another of Hally’s actions that demonstrated his attitude towards blacks is when he strikes Willie with his ruler. He is only seventeen, and hitting a grown man with a ruler. He can get away with it only because a black man dare not touch a white boy, for fear of the consequences.

    In the beginning of the play, Sam describes what it is like for black people in jail in South Africa. They are beaten with a cane and humiliated. “They make you lie down on a bench. One policeman pulls down your trousers and holds your ankles, another one pulls your shirt over your head and holds your arms…” Fugard 166 Obviously, Hally feels he can treat black men the same way, hitting and humiliating them. After this incident, the three begin talking about ballroom dancing, and they think of it as a perfect world in which “nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. Fugard 542 They create their own perfect world with their imaginations, which ballroom dancing symbolizes for them.

    All is well between them until another call comes from Hally’s mother. His father would be coming home. Hally’s mood once again takes a violent turn for the worse. Sam, overhearing Hally’s conversation with his mom, expresses concern in the issue. Hally only tells him to mind his own business. Soon, Hally begins to talk badly of his father. Sam knows that Hally will say something he regrets, so he tries to warn Hally to quit while he’s ahead.

    Instead, Hally turns his anger on Sam. This is when he makes the next in a series of racial comments. He says that his father is Sam’s boss, and when same says that isn’t true, because he gets paid by Hally’s mom, Hally says “He’s a white man and that’s good enough for you. ” Fugard 608 Soon after, Hally tells his father’s joke about a nigger’s arse not being “fair”. He tells Sam he wants to be called “Master Harold” from now on, as a sign of respect. The irony of this situation is quite evident. “Master Harold is a boy, and the ‘boys’ are men. Post 116 So, Hally changes from the beginning of the play when he seems to have a respect and even a love for Sam, to requiring respect of him.

    His attitude of superiority over the black man is summed up with his most disrespectful action towards Sam, spitting in his face. Throughout the entire play, Hally never apologizes for his disrespect towards Sam, nor does he even show remorse. The reason is that he doesn’t see his behavior is wrong. The society he belonged to deliberately sets out to humiliate black people,” Durbach 69 and this created an indifference in the members of that society.

    In South Africa at this time, there was nothing wrong with a white boy hitting a black man. But if a black man had raised a hand against a white boy, he would have been severely punished. Although the two seem to have a friendly relationship, Hally can choose at any time to threaten Sam with the power he has over him. HALLY: To begin with, why don’t you also start calling me Master Harold, like Willie. SAM: […] And if I don’t? HALLY: You might just lose your job. Fugard 620-624 And it would be just that easy for Hally to have Sam fired. The reason for Hally’s disregard of Sam’s feelings is the shame he feels about his father.

    He feels like he has to humiliate someone else in order to feel less ashamed of himself. So he “echoes his father’s bigotry” Durbach 71. Hally brings his feelings of shame and self-doubt and tries to unload them on Sam through insults and abuse. He says it is to be a sign of respect. Here, respect loses meaning in the normal context of the word. It is not really respect, but rather correction by threat. Hally is totally safe in anything he says or does towards the two black men simply because he is a white boy in a society that hates black people.

    So, all the frustration and anger he has inside him as a result of how ashamed he feels of his father is misdirected onto Sam, the man who actually played the role of “father” better than anyone else. Even to the end of the play, Sam is still trying to persuade Hally to take back his racist comments and actions. He does not use violence, but rather “moral suasion and exemplary behavior” Durbach 74. He behaves like a real man in order to teach the real boy how a man behaves. The irony of the situation is that the black men are expected by society to treat the white boy as their “master” so to speak.

    They are supposed to treat him like a full grown man, while Hally refers to them occasionally as “the boys”. In actuality, the “boys” are teaching Hally to be a man. Sam keeps trying, even offering his hand to Hally before Hally turns it down, and walks into the rain leaving Sam to feel like a failure, because he has failed in what he had set out to do with the young Hally, years ago. To “induce change in a morally receptive child” Durbach 76. When Sam offers his hand to Hally, asking him to come down off that white-only bench, which symbolizes the whole of the racist ideals which Hally demonstrates.

    Sam has hope for Hally, but an attitude ingrained on him from his birth is not one so easily left behind. Sam never blames Hally, realizing that he is just a “casualty of his upbringing” Durbach 76. So, Hally gets away with everything he does to disrespect the pair of black men, and at the end of the day feels no better about himself than he did before. Sam’s inaction did not have the effect on Hally he might have hoped for. But Sam loved the boy, and wanted to teach him the right attitude to have. Unfortunately, the effect society had on Hally’s character was too deep. So Hally is just a product of his circumstances, and nothing more.

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