Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys Competition

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The idea of competition comes up both explicitly and implicitly in "Master Harold" …and the boys, but it's an ever-present background noise in the play, like Muzak on an elevator. Whether it's Sam and Willie preparing for their ballroom dancing competition, or Sam and Hally competing to show who knows the most, the characters are always trying to show one another up.

This reflects the context of the play, South Africa in 1950, when apartheid was the name of the game and blacks and whites were kept legally separate in almost every public context. Although the competition in this play is mostly playful, in real-life there was really no contest between the races. The game was totally fixed and deadly serious.

Questions About Competition

  1. Why does the prospect of winning the dance competition make Willie so excited?
  2. What's the problem with Willie's dance partner?
  3. Why do Sam and Willie laugh at Hally's question about dance competition penalties?

Chew on This

Focusing on a friendly dance competition allows Sam and Willie a temporary respite from their no-win situation in real life.

Hally understands competition as a negative thing, while Sam and Willie see it as a chance to shine.

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