Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys Violence

By Athol Fugard

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It isn't too surprising that a play about South Africa in 1950 has a strong undercurrent of violence. That potential for explosions always feels just beneath the surface, and it gets stronger as the play progresses. The characters get along with each other on the surface, but certain behaviors and statements reveal that racial violence is always lurking, ready to erupt.

It's as though the violent legal structure that kept black South Africans from having any opportunities within civil society has become part of the characters' everyday lives, even their personalities. The violence of the state becomes violence between neighbors, friends, and lovers.

Questions About Violence

  1. Proponents of apartheid feared violence from black South Africans. Do the black characters in this play seem potentially dangerous?
  2. What's Hally's ultimate offense toward Sam?
  3. When Hally hits Willie with a ruler, why does Willie tell him to hit Sam, too?

Chew on This

The possibility of violence permeates every relationship in the play.

The differences in racial power are what allow Hally to act violently toward Sam and Willie.

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