“Master Harold”... and the boys effectively captures the political tension brewing between the blacks and whites in South Africa due to strict apartheid laws in the
1950s. He uses three characters: Sam, Willie, and Hally to demonstrate how relationships successfully overcome the strict social barriers imposed by apartheid laws. Although the three of the characters maintain a strong relationship, Fugard utilizes objects and actions to represent the characters’ understanding of how life functions, both optimistically and pessimistically. Of most significance, Fugard employs ballroom dancing as a metaphor for both the transcendent beauty of life and the imperfection of life, compared to the perfection of dancing and the arts.
Ballroom dancing is recognized as a form of the beauty in life. When Sam and Willie are ballroom dancing around the cafe tea room, Hally quickly sees them, snaps, and says, “
a customer had walked in then?...And seen the two of you behaving like a pair of hooligans...From now on there will be no more of your ballroom nonsense in here...There’s more to life than trotting around a dance floor and I thought at least you knew it
Hally does not realize the significance of ballroom dancing to Sam and believes it to be a futile use of time and appreciation, but Sam begins to elucidate how ballroom dancing connects to the beauty of life. Haley refuses to take ballroom dancing seriously and believes it to be simpleminded, unchallenging, and a useless form to gain happiness. When undermining ballroom dancing he says, “
I said it was simple like in simpleminded, meaning mentally retarded. You can’t say it challenges the intellect”
(89). Sam immediately replies by saying,
You still haven’t told me what’s wrong with admiring something that’s beautiful and then trying to do it yourself”
. Although Sam states that it is the dancing that is something that is beautiful, he alludes to life that is beautiful. Hally may believe that ballroom dancing is a
meaningless use of time, but Sam defines it with great meaning, which to him is the definition of life: giving meaning to the meaningless. Later, Hally asks Sam what would happen at the competition if they made any mistakes while dancing. Sam replies by saying, “
There’s no collisions out there, Hally...Nobody trips or stumbles into anybody else.That’s what the moment is all about..like a dream about a world in which accidents don’t happen”(45). Sam, fully aware of the contrasting reality of his dream, believes that dancing at the finals is the only moment where life is filled with beauty and perfection. Everything goes accordingly and no mistake is made. Sam speaks of perfection only when he is talking about the finals of the dance competiton, and when he conveys the audience’s desire for perfection.
He shows us the audience’s desire for perfection when he states that the competition is the event of the year which has been sold out for two weeks already.
On a larger scale, this perfect moment of dancing captures the times that life is filled with pure beauty and perfection. Although Sam’s life is no where near the level of perfection and beauty achieved in dancing, he appreciates and dreams of a beautiful life that is always perfect so he can feel as if he is always in a dream, not just when he dances. Although ballroom dancing is seen as the ultimate state of happiness and beauty in life, it is also represents a root of conflict.
Despite the sharp contrast between the beauty and perfection in the arts and life, there are some people who try to master the steps so there will be a world without collisions.
While Sam is explaining to Hally the beauty of dancing, he discusses and elaborates on the less beautiful side of life: bumping. Sam states, “
Hally, we’re bumping into each other all the time. Look at the three of us this