Racial tensions are the story in in "Master Harold" …and the boys. The play puts South African apartheid on the stage, with one young, white character lording it over two older black men. It's hard to watch/read, and that's exactly the point.
Fugard shows the deep racial wounds that plagued South Africa in the 1950s under the apartheid system through the interactions between the characters. Hally has felt closer to Sam than almost anyone in his life. Sam's been a surrogate father to him. But this becomes overshadowed by the status differences between the races that the apartheid system has created and that Hally expresses as the play progresses. Critic Patrick O'Neil said that apartheid had the ability to corrupt peoples' psyches, souls, and relationships." (Source) It certainly corrupts Hally's relationship with his good friends. Sam's spent his life teaching Hally to be tolerant, and think about how he gets repaid.
Fugard asks us whether as individuals, we're able to overcome attitudes and prejudices that we're taught from the time we're born and that are institutionalized by the society we live in. The official apartheid system wasn't abolished until the 1990s, so by the time Fugard wrote the play, the system was nearing its end but was still the law of the land.
Questions About Race
How does the bench in the kite story symbolize race in the play?
What has their race had to do with the way each character's life has turned out?
Why do you think that Fugard set the play in 1950 when he wrote it in 1982?
Why does Hally tell Sam that his father is his boss?
Chew on This
Only an exceptional person would be able to break out of racial attitudes that they've been spoon-fed in school and at home.
If their roles were reversed, Sam would probably behave just like Hally; they are a product of the system regardless of their personal relationship.