Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys The Chair

By Athol Fugard

The Chair

Fugard's first description of the St. George's Park Tea Room includes this:

Tables and chairs have been cleared and are stacked on one side except for one which stands apart with a single chair. On this table a knife, fork, spoon and side plate in anticipation of a simple meal, together with a pile of comic books. (3-7)

This table and chair are waiting for Hally, who's due home from school any minute. Sam and Willie aren't sitting; Sam's leaning against the table and Willie's on his knees cleaning the floor. Some reviewers have described this table and chair as a symbol of a "white man's privilege." It's a mini-throne for young Master Harold where he can sit and relax while his black friends work. He's there to be served.

That makes a lot of sense, considering the themes and action of this play; it's a prelude to the racial drama that'll play out later. There's another way to look at it, though. This little table and chair, set up for lunch, is just what you'd think a parent might have ready for their exhausted kid after a long day at school. Think about how great it would feel to see it waiting for you when you came home. But Hally's parents didn't set this up; he's at their place of business being cared for by Sam and Willie. Sam's the one who serves him lunch, and you can see the mixed metaphor here. It's a kind act on Sam's part and he does it affectionately, but it also shows Sam and Hally in their roles as master and servant. Hally sits while the "boys" cater to him. Considering how he behaves towards them, he's lucky Sam doesn't dump the soup over his head.

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