Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys What's Up With the Ending?

By Athol Fugard

What's Up With the Ending?

The very last thing left on the stage when the lights go dim is Willie and Sam dancing to the Sarah Vaughan song "Little Man".

The lyrics end with "Little man you've had a busy day," and neatly (and ironically) refer to Hally. He's a little boy, a child who wants to be a man, and he's had a heck of a day trying to figure out how to do that. We're not sure which path he'll choose—Fugard leaves that unanswered—and it's just too sad for Shmoop to think about. We're still exhausted from those last three pages. We're worried for Hally, but we're hoping against hope that he turns out like the real-life Harold Athol Fugard.

In the closing scene, Willie and Sam dance together just like they did when the play opened, but the tone is totally different. Whereas they were happy and kind of giddy dancing at the beginning, here the song's slow and sad, and their dance is more serious. It's like they're mourning what's happened to Hally. Lots of people see this play as a tragedy because of this subdued ending, but one critic, John O. Jordan, sees it as a romance. No, not because Sam and Willie are sweet on each other, but because that last scene conveys some of the elements of the literary definition of a romance. The dance, which has been symbolizing harmony and freedom from conflict, shows us the possibility of a better world than our characters are allowed in the apartheid social system. An ideal world, really. (Source)

So what do you think about this ending—hopeful or hopeless? A bit of both, maybe?

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