Corrupting Effect of Power in "Master Harold" and the Boys

Power has a corrupting influence on people. Those who enjoy a privileged position tend to look down on those who are relegated to a lower place. Those in power start behaving irrationally, arrogantly and blindly treating others as inferior and abominable. The otherwise good relations among human beings begin to fall apart.

Athol Fugard (11 June 1932)

The relations guided by and based on true human and natural impulses are poisoned and society turns to be a location where the drama of discrimination, hatred, violence and domination unfolds. This is even more so in a society where the laws and practices for the domination of one group over another are sanctioned through their institutionalization. Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the boys is a play that vividly explores how the powerful whites have exercised domination over the blacks in South Africa and how that situation has corrupted the otherwise good whites and poisoned their promising relations with the people of the black community.

A society comprises various socio-cultural groups of people. When one group recognizes the existence and value of another the society can run smoothly and harmoniously. If one group is more powerful than the other then begins the long process of subordination, domination and dehumanization. Due to the corrupting impact of power, the relationship between and among people becomes sour and poisoned. In a society that approves the domination of one group of people over the other, this situation manifests itself in the worst forms. Master Harold and the boys is a play, which helps to bring this reality to light. In the play, as the title itself suggests, there is a sense of racial superiority at work which creates a gulf between the whites and the blacks. Hally, the protagonist belongs to the race of Master and treats Sam and Willie as inferior when he feels humiliation because of his father's disease and drunkenness. Before this they had a very good relationship. Hally had treated Sam as a teacher and a friend despite the huge age gap. Sam was his spiritual and moral guide. He looked after Hally's education and provided fatherly love to him when Hally's own father was absent. They lived together and worked together as true friends. They understood each other very well. True natural feelings and impulses brought them together as human beings. The world of their friendship was very beautiful and harmonious without any collision. No other barriers were allowed to come between them. However, when a moment of emotional heat came, the beautiful world came crumbling down. Now, Hally asks Sam to call him a master. He even goes to the extent of spitting Sam on his face. It is the ugliest turn their relation has taken. What has poisoned this promising relationship? It is the power that is behind all this. The familial and cultural training Hally had got manifested itself in his treatment of the blacks. As a member of the white community he had been taught to feel superior to the blacks. When he knows the reality of his father in front of the blacks he pours his anger and hatred on the blacks to compensate for his sense of humiliation. It takes us to larger socio-cultural issues. The African society had sanctioned the domination of the blacks by whites and the corrupting influence has ruined the beautiful relationship. Thus, Fugard's Master Harold and the boys provides us insights into how power corrupts people. It is a reflection of the way people of one group dominate the other because the society in which they live approves of this domination. It has poisoned human relation and leads to dehumanizing impact of that evil practice.