Tolstoy's presence in Fugard's "Master Harold" ... and the boys: Sam's pacifist Christian perseverance and "a case of illness.
THE anticipated release in late 2010 of a movie version of Athol Fugard's "MASTER HAROLD" ... and the boys promises increased scholarly examination of Fugard's original 1982 drama, a play considered by many scholars to be Fugard's finest work. (2) For those who may not know the play, a summary is in order. Set in 1950 apartheid South Africa, the play takes place on a rainy afternoon in a Port Elizabeth tea room and has three characters: seventeen-year-old Hally (Harold), whose family owns the tea room, and Sam and Willie, two black men who are the family's longstanding employees. As the play begins, Willie laments his dim prospects in an upcoming dance competition. He complains that his girlfriend and dance partner Hilda won't practice with him. Sam tells Willie to treat her properly. After Hally enters, his close but patronizing relationship with Sam becomes evident. Fancying himself Sam's educator, Hally discusses with Sam certain men of magnitude whom they admire for bettering the world. The three characters reminisce, and Hally affectionately remembers when Sam built him a kite that they flew together.
A phone call from Hally's mother informs Hally that his alcoholic, crippled father wants to return home early from his present hospitalization. The frustrated Hally eventually yells at both men and hits Willie. Sam attempts to soothe Hally by describing the dancing championships. Hally becomes intrigued and begins to write an essay about the championships to fulfill a school assignment. Sam's description of the dance floor as "a world in which accidents don't happen" (45) genuinely moves Hally, who connects this hopeful image with a greater hope for a better world. The conversation is interrupted by another call from Hally's mother, who confirms that his father has come home. Hally explodes into a rant against his father; when Sam implores him to stop, Hally tells Sam and Willie his father's racist joke about "a nigger's arse" (55). He eventually spits in Sam's face, exiting the tea room ashamed but without apology. After Hally departs, Willie promises Sam that he'll apologize to Hilda, and he puts his bus fare money in the juke box so that the two men can hear a Sarah Vaughan song. They dance together as the play ends.
A deeper understanding of both Hally's and Sam's respective characters as well as their relationship can be gained by examining their aforementioned men of magnitude discussion. (3) During this conversation, Hally reveals his ignorance and immaturity on a number of levels, but a particularly striking aspect involves his professed admiration for Leo Tolstoy, whom Hally claims to admire for his "social reform and literary genius" (21). Hally even demonstrates his adolescent hubris by comparing himself to Tolstoy, telling Sam that "Tolstoy may have educated his peasants, but I've educated you" (23). But Hally's stated respect for Tolstoy is deeply ironic, for in the course of the play his words and actions explicitly contradict both the radical egalitarianism and Christian pacifism that Tolstoy himself championed, thus demonstrating both Hally's ignorance of the great man with whom he tries to identify and his own pitiful self-absorption. By contrast, Sam, whose knowledge of Tolstoy seems limited to basic information learned from Hally, actually exemplifies Tolstoy's philosophy of egalitarianism and Christian pacifism and, perhaps most significantly, demonstrates a compassionate dignity toward his difficult "master" in a manner strikingly reminiscent of Tolstoy's Gerasim, the kindly peasant servant who cares for the dying Ivan in The Death of Ivan Ilych. Of particular interest is how Sam, like Gerasim, perseveres in an unpleasant task for his "master" because he recognizes that Hally's regrettable behavior is brought about by, to use Gerasim's phrase, "a case of illness" (47).
HALLY'S first ironic disconnect with Tolstoy involves the youth's failure to live up to Tolstoy's philosophy of radical egalitarianism even though Hally himself makes favorable reference to it. He tells Sam that Tolstoy "shovel[ed] manure with his peasants" and "freed his serfs of his own free will" (21), (4) but Hally seems disturbingly oblivious to Sam and Willie's plight as blacks living under South Africa's apartheid system. He dismisses Sam's mentioning of Abraham Lincoln as a man of magnitude, saying, "Don't get sentimental, Sam. You've never been a slave, you know. And anyway we freed your ancestors here in South Africa long before the Americans" (20). Moreover, from his first appearance, Hally demonstrates an unthinking comfort with the master-servant relationship with Sam and Willie that his position as a white youth in apartheid South Africa affords him. He accepts without protest Willie's obsequious albeit humorous salute and address, "At your service, Master Harold!" (9), and he allows Sam to serve him his lunch even though Hally is perfectly capable of getting it himself (12). He also makes no effort to assist Sam and Willie as they clean the tea room, and he never offers them any of the soda or chocolate cake that he regularly drinks and eats. (5) Both of these omissions indicate that Hally is one who unreflectively participates in the culture of apartheid, assuming the blacks to be his inferiors and accepting his privileged status without question even before he begins to act in egregiously shameful ways toward them. Hally's unreflective behavior stands in stark contrast to the principled stand against social injustice that Tolstoy took and which Hally briefly mentions. As the play goes on, Hally asserts his authority as master in explicitly abusive ways: midway through the play, for example, he "gives Willie a vicious whack on the bum" with a ruler (38). Later, he turns on Sam, telling him, "You're only a servant here, and don't forget it" (53). He also demands that Sam regard Hally's father as his boss and says, "He's a white man and that's good enough for you" (53). Moreover, Hally insists that Sam call him "Master Harold," tells the aforementioned racist joke, and spits in Sam's face (54-56).
In contrast to Hally's haughty behavior toward Sam and Willie is Sam's attitude toward Willie. Obviously both men are black, have similar jobs, and are members of the same socio-economic class, but it is also clear that Sam is the more intelligent of the two and holds a more responsible position at the tea house. Nonetheless, Sam's attitude toward Willie has certain recognizable Tolstoy-like characteristics. One is Sam's willingness to work menially alongside Willie. Although one could fault Sam for reading a comic book while Willie scrubs the floor at the beginning of the play, a while later he clears a table while Willie looks on (33), and then he works alongside Willie while Hally studies (35). More important is Sam's patient willingness to teach Willie both dance steps and life lessons. It is significant that Sam does not respond either to Willie's coarse tirade against Hilda with self-righteous indignation or to Willie's mediocre dancing with condescension. Rather, he comes alongside Willie, gently but firmly admonishing him not to abuse Hilda (7) and patiently coaching Willie in his dancing (4-9). (6) Throughout the play, Sam's kind instruction of the simple Willie works as a foil to Hally's condescension toward both men.
Hally's second disconnect with Tolstoy involves his attitude toward religion in general and Jesus specifically. Immediately after Hally has finished explaining why Tolstoy is his chosen man of magnitude, he instructs Sam to "submit" his own "candidate for examination" (22). Sam quickly offers "Jesus Christ [...] The Messiah," but Hally responds incredulously, saying, "Oh, come on, Sam!" and telling him, "No. Religion is out! I'm not going to waste my time again arguing about the existence of God. You know perfectly well I'm an atheist" (22). Hally's knee-jerk rejection of Jesus as a man of magnitude clearly sets him against Tolstoy, who based his unorthodox brand of Christian pacifism on Jesus's teachings, primarily the Sermon on the Mount. This is seen throughout Tolstoy's What I Believe (1888) and The Kingdom of God Is within You (1894). Indeed, it seems certain that, were Tolstoy engaged in the men of magnitude discussion, he, like Sam, would have Jesus on his short list. Moreover, although Tolstoy's religious thought contained a good deal of skepticism toward supernatural matters, he engaged religious issues tirelessly, as evidenced by his various books on religious subjects. Hally further rejects Tolstoy's ideal of Christian pacifism with his aforementioned violence against both Willie and Sam, and he demeans Jesus throughout the play by frequently taking his and God's name in vain in the presence of the Christian Sam.
BY contrast, Sam differs strikingly from Hally not merely because of his Christian profession but more specifically because he lives out the Christian pacifism that Tolstoy so passionately championed. For Tolstoy, the essence of true Christianity is stated in Matthew 5:38-39, where Jesus commands, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (7) Sam demonstrates Tolstoy's doctrine of nonresistance toward Willie, Hally, and Hally's unseen father, in each case answering the other's unkindness with kindness. Before Hally enters, Willie, frustrated by bis relationship with Hilda and his inability to master his dance steps, overreacts to Sam's gentle ribbing while he instructs Willie. Willie explodes vulgarly, telling Sam to "fuck off" (8). But Sam does not respond in kind; rather, he assures Willie that he wants to help him and patiently teaches his petulant colleague (8). Sam's eventual success with Willie is evident at the end of the play when Willie, following Hally's sad departure from the tea room, repents of his own violence, telling Sam, "You right" and resolving to "find Hilda," tell her "sorry," and "promise [her] I won't beat her no more" (60).
Even more remarkable than his forebearance with Willie is Sam's decision not to respond with violence against Hally after he spits in Sam's face. Having resisted the temptation to hit Hally (56-57), Sam gently but firmly rebukes Hally, continues to empathize with Hally in his pain, and then offers his hand in reconciliation (57-59). (8) The connection between Sam and Tolstoy is particularly notable here in light of Sam's recently expressed admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, who, in Sam's words, went "without food to stop those riots in India" (47) and who, of course, led a successful movement of passive resistance to establish Indian independence from Great Britain. Albert Wertheim explicitly connects Sam and Gandhi, observing Sam's practice of "such Gandhi-like passive rather than active resistance" (Dramatic Art 149). But we must also recognize that it was Tolstoy--particularly through The Kingdom of God Is within You--who most strongly influenced Gandhi's ideal of passive resistance (Green), and that Gandhi has been called "Tolstoy's greatest disciple" (Edgerton xi). The notion that Sam here embodies this Tolstoyan ideal of passive resistance explains more thoroughly, I believe, Sam's decision not to retaliate with violence than does the oft-quoted explanation offered by South African actor Zakes Mokae, who played Sam both in the play's original 1982 Fugard-directed production at the Yale Repertory Theater and in the 1985 Michael Lindsay-Hogg film production. Mokae suggests that the reason for Sam's nonviolence is because Sam, being from the hill country of Lesotho, fears being sent out of Port Elizabeth and "back to Lesotho" should he lash out (Solomon 28-29). But Mokae's utilitarian explanation, while feasible on a practical level, does not do justice to the radically compassionate forebearance that Sam--who is "great in his humbleness" (Oliver 11)--displays toward Hally, a phenomenon better explained by Sam's principled adherence to Christ's teaching on nonviolence. (9)
Finally, we can see that Sam also tunas the other cheek in his concern for Hally's racist father. Even before Hally repeats his father's racist joke, Sam is no doubt aware of the man's bigotry. But Sam nonetheless shows empathy for his difficult situation in the hospital, suggesting to Hally that his father is "lonely in there" (34) and then bravely confronting Hally when he berates the man:
No, Hally, you mustn't do it. Take back those words and ask for forgiveness! It's a terrible sin for a son to mock his father with jokes like that. You'll be punished if you carry on. Your father is your father, even if he is a ... cripple man. (52)
Significantly, even after Hally, a few minutes later, repeats his father's racist joke about "a nigger's arse" (55), Sam maintains his desire for Hally to be reconciled with his deeply flawed father. When Hally admits, "I love him, Sam," Sam tells him, "I know you do. That's why I tried to stop you from saying those things about him" (58). It would be easy at this point--just after Hally has told the joke and then spit in Sam's face--for Sam not to maintain any good will toward either Hally or his father. But Sam persists in ways that imitate his and Tolstoy's "man of magnitude." (10)
A final and more subtle way that Tolstoy's presence is evident in Fugard's play involves the implicit presence of Tolstoy's Gerasim, the kindly young servant in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886). Gerasim figures prominently in chapter VII of Tolstoy's novella, cheerfully serving the dying Ilych and not begrudging the task of disposing of his excretions. At one point Ilych says to Gerasim, "That must be very unpleasant for you. You must forgive me. I am helpless." Gerasim replies, "What's a little trouble? It's a case of illness with you, sir" (47). We do not know which of Tolstoy's writings the seventeen-year-old Hally has read. We strongly suspect that he has not read either of Tolstoy's greatest full-length novels, the massive War and Peace of the lengthy Anna Karenina (since he admits that Julius Caesar is the only Shakespeare play he's read ), but it is entirely possible that he has read--or at least been assigned to read--The Death of Ivan Ilych, a novella of only some 22,400 words, generally regarded as Tolstoy's greatest short work and regularly assigned to students as their first exposure to Tolstoy's writing.
But even if Hally has read The Death of Ivan Ilych, its lessons, particularly the value of compassionate love that Tolstoy champions via Gerasim, are lost on him. The irony of Hally's rejection of Gerasim-like selfless service in favor of his own personal comfort is painfully evident when, during his second phone conversation with his mother, Hally urges her to keep his father in the hospital and not permit him to return. The prime reason Hally gives is striking, for he chooses to reject doing for his father essentially the same unpleasant task that Gerasim embraces in serving Ilych: "I'm sick and tired of emptying stinking chamberpots full of phlegm and piss ... [...]! When you're not there, he asks me to do it!" (48). In contrast to Gerasim's cheerful assurance to Ilych that taking out his excrement is "no trouble" because "it is a case of illness with you," Hally not only complains bitterly about having to dispose of his father's waste; he also shows no sympathy for the fact that his father depends on him for this task because of a disability. Moreover, Hally shortly thereafter enters into a vulgar tirade in which he bitterly satirizes Sam's earlier image of the South African Ballroom Dance Championships as being like "a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen" (45):
We've had the pretty dream, it's time now to wake up and have a good long look at the way things really are. Nobody knows the steps, there's no music, the cripples are also out there tripping up everybody and trying to get into the act, and it's all called the All-Comers-How-to-Make-a-Fuckup-of-Life-Championships.(Another ugly laugh) Hang on, Sam! The best bit is still coming. Do you know what the winner's trophy is? A beautiful big chamberpot with roses on the side, and it's full to the brim with piss. And guess who I think is going to be this year's winner. (51-52)
It is at this point that Sam insists that Hally stop, offering the aforementioned rebuke that concludes with, "Your father is your father, even if he is ... a cripple man" (52). Sam's defense of Hally's father, reinforcing his innate dignity in spite of his condition as a drunken, disabled man, stands in stark contrast to Hally's choice to use his father's condition as a reason to despise him. After Hally has spit in Sam's face--displaying, in the words of Dennis Walder, "the contempt he is unable to show his father" (84)--we also learn that Sam, in true Gerasim fashion, had in fact cleaned up Hally's father's excrement. In his noble attempt to seek reconciliation with Hally, Sam recalls the time years ago when the two of them went to the Central Hotel Bar to retrieve Hally's helplessly drunken father. Sam reminds Hally that after carrying him home they "still had to clean him up" because "[h]e'd messed in his trousers" (58).
But whatever the nobility of Sam's efforts on behalf of the crippled, alcoholic father, it is evident that Sam's goodness is directed primarily toward another crippled and diseased individual: Hally himself. For although Hally appears to be a physically healthy teenager, his emotional illness is all too evident, and Sam has long recognized Hally's disability as the child of an alcoholic (Bazin 127). Sam remembers the aforementioned humiliating scene:
You went in first by yourself to ask permission for me to go into the bar. Then I loaded him onto my back like a baby and carried him back to the boarding house with you following behind carrying his crutches. (Shaking his head as he remembers) A crowded Main Street with all the people watching a little white boy following his drunk father on a nigger's back! I felt for that little boy ... Master Harold. I felt for him. After that we still had to clean him up, remember? He'd messed in his trousers, so we had to clean him up and get him into bed. (57-58)
Sam is painfully aware that the father's "mess" affects not only the man himself but also Hally. And if Sam chooses to serve Hally's father by cleaning up his excrement--remembering, like Gerasim, that Hally's father's embarrassing situation involves "a case of illness" because of both his alcoholism and his crippled condition--how much more earnestly does he choose to serve Hally by helping to clean up the mess that has dirtied Hally's life as a result of his father's illness and Hall's own illness as the son of an alcoholic. And we see Sam's endurance for the sake of the ill Hally continue to the end of the play, even when the mess to be cleaned up may be seen as one for which Hally himself becomes increasingly responsible. (11)
We recognize that Sam reminds Hally of this painful incident not in order to hurt and humiliate the emotionally crippled boy--a wound which Sam could have easily inflicted and which he was perhaps tempted to inflict--but because he is seeking to prevent Hally from doing more damage to himself and others by continuing in the reprehensible behavior of the past few minutes. Sam goes on to let Hally know that he understands that the boy both loves and is ashamed of his father, and that he has been trying, ever since the humiliating incident of Hally's father's public drunkenness took place, to help clean up the mess of shame that the afflicted father has inflicted upon his son:
After we got him to bed you came back with me to my room and sat in a corner and carried on just looking down at the ground. And for days after that! You hadn't done anything wrong, but you went around as if you owed the world an apology for being alive. I didn't like seeing that! That's not the way a boy grows up to be a man! ... But the one person who should have been teaching you what that means was the cause of your shame. If you really want to know, that's why I made you that kite. I wanted you to look up, be proud of something, of yourself... (Bitter smile at the memory).., and you certainly were that when I left you with it up there on the hill. (58)
We understand from this speech that Sam's continued service and devotion to Hally have been motivated by his loving understanding of the condition that Hally lives with. Like Gerasim in his service to Ivan, Sam is motivated by a recognition of not only their common humanity, but also the great need of his beneficiary; and, like Gerasim, Sam does not begrudge his difficult labors on behalf of a difficult master.
ALTHOUGH Sam's attempt to reach out to the ashamed, abusive Hally at the end of the play is particularly memorable, we should also recognize that Sam's loving endurance of Hally's behavior is not limited to the period following Hally's regrettable tirade against his father and his treatment of Sam after he rebukes Hally. Indeed, Hally's behavior toward Sam during the entire play is strikingly inconsiderate, regardless of his mood. A survey of this behavior demonstrates how very long-suffering Sam has been with Hally throughout their relationship. It is important to note that for most of the first half of the play, Hally is actually convinced that his father will not be coming home early from the hospital. Although Hally is at first deeply concerned when Sam tells him that he thinks Hally's mother is bringing Hally's father home from the hospital that day (10), his concerns are assuaged when, a bit later, he calls home, and, because no one there answers, he concludes that his mother is merely visiting his father at the hospital. Fugard's stage directions even say, "As far as HALLY is concerned, the matter [about whether his father is coming home early] is settled" (14).
The fact that Hally seems convinced at this point that the situation with his father has been resolved is significant because it reveals to the audience that the way he acts between this first phone call until the time when his mother calls to inform him that his father is in fact coming home that day (32) represents Hally's typical behavior, not his behavior under duress. Even during this comparatively calm period of the play, his treatment of Sam is very disturbing, and all the more so because this treatment is meant to be indicative of the way he typically relates to the older man. During the men of magnitude discussion, Hally ironically accuses Sam of "bigotry" and tells him, "It's the likes of you that kept the Inquisition in place" because Sam doesn't believe in evolution (20). He also insults Sam for his admiration of Lincoln and Shakespeare (20), dismisses Sam's admiration of Jesus (21-22), and patronizingly brags about having "educated" Sam (23). When they begin discussing their years together at the Jubilee Boarding House, Hally's words continue to be thoughtlessly offensive, particularly when Hally recollects his favorite memory, the day that Sam built Hally the kite. Amidst this recollection, Hally calls Sam a "bugger"--the primary definition of which is "sodomite," although it can also simply mean "chap" (OED)--and says, "I could have brained you" as he recalls how Sam would not at first tell him what he was building (28). Hally also says, "I mean, seriously, what the hell does a black man know about flying a kite?" (29). During both discussions Hally also regularly blasphemes while talking to the Christian Sam. It seems clear that Fugard wants us to ask the question--what kind of a sick seventeen-year-old boy casually talks to a forty-five year-old man this way?--and indeed I will be answering that question presently. This is how Hally speaks to Sam when he is in a good mood, a mood that will quickly alter when his mother calls to announce his father's imminent return home.
After his mother's call, Hally's behavior becomes even worse, adding a regular stream of coarse vulgarity to his continued blasphemy. He also dismisses the "Carols by Candlelight"--which Sam clearly values--as "religious hysteria" (35), ordering both Sam and Willie to do their work (35). He hits Willie with a ruler and threatens to do the same to Sam (38), and he belittles Sam and Willie's love for ballroom dancing until Sam, in his seemingly endless patience, finally convinces Hally to take it seriously as a legitimate form of cultural expression (38-42). Moreover, even as Hally thinks he is complimenting Sam and Willie by choosing to fulfill his English teacher's assignment--which requires him to describe "an annual event of cultural or historical significance" (42)--by writing about the Eastern Province Open Ballroom Dancing Championships, he justifies his decision to write on this topic in "shockingly racist and propagandistic" terms (Frank 309):
Old Doc Bromely [...] doesn't like natives. But I'll point out to him that in strict anthropological terms the culture of a primitive black society includes its dancing and singing. To put my thesis in a nutshell: The war-dance has been replaced by the waltz. But it still amounts to the same thing: the release of primitive emotions through movement. (43)
Haike Frank notes that Hally's "pre-fabricated" argument reflects the beliefs of the "imperialistic cultural anthropology" that has "influenced apartheid's racist discourse" (309). Although Hally claims to be challenging his racist teacher, his words reflect that he too "has been successfully indoctrinated by apartheid discourse" (Frank 309), and indeed he here ironically parrots Doc Bromely even as he imitates his bum-spanking teacher Mr. Prentice when he hits Willie (Wertheim, Dramatic 143).
The next few minutes--during which Hally is instructed by Sam and is genuinely inspired by his description of the ballroom dance competition and the "world without collisions" that it represents (47)--contain Hally's best treatment of Sam in the play. But Hally's respectful behavior quickly ends when his mother's second call confirms that Hally's father is indeed at home (48-49). It is at this point that Hally begins the violent tirade that culminates with his spitting in Sam's face, an action that Robert Post calls "Hally's ultimate disgrace" (101).
HAVING surveyed Hally's problematic treatment of Sam throughout the play, we do well to ask not only why Sam continues to reach out to Hally after the youth's degrading acts of hostility, but also why, even before that final display, Sam has persevered in a relationship clearly characterized by regular displays of disrespect so engrained in Hally's conduct that the youth appears to have no recognition of how poorly he has treated the man who has loved him unconditionally through much of his lifetime. The answer, I believe, is largely that Sam recognizes in Hally what Tolstoy's Gerasim recognizes in Ivan Ilych: that "it's a case of illness with [him]." Hally's illness is a complex one, however, and it seems appropriate to observe that for Hally it is actually a case of two distinct illnesses. We have already discussed Sam's recognition of Hally's affliction as the son of an alcoholic. But Sam also recognizes Hally's other illness: his condition as one afflicted with what Ettol Durbach calls "the psychopathology of apartheid," a psychopathology which affects every aspect of Hally's relationship with Sam and Willie. Durbach's perceptive analysis helps explain Hally's "illness" and merits being quoted at length:
This, in essence, is the psychopathology of apartheid. Growing up to be a "man" within a system that deliberately sets out to humiliate black people, even to the point of relegating them to separate benches, entails the danger of habitual indifference to the everyday details that shape black/white relationships and, finally, pervert them. It is not merely that racial prejudice is legislated in South Africa. It insinuates itself into every social sphere of existence, until the very language of ordinary human discourse begins to reflect the policy that makes black men subservient to the power exercised by white children. Hally, the seventeen-year-old white boy whose affectionately diminutive name is an index of his social immaturity, is "Master Harold" in the context of attitudes fostered by apartheid. And the black man who is his mentor and surrogate father is the "boy"--in all but compassion, humanity, and moral intelligence.
This, finally, is the only definition that the South African system can conceive of in the relationship of White to Black; and Hally, with the facility of one habituated to such power play, saves face and forestalls criticism by rapidly realigning the components of friendship into the socio-political patterns of mastery and servitude. Like quicksilver, he shifts from intimate familiarity with his black companions, to patronising condescension to his social inferiors, to an appalling exercise of power over the powerless "boys" simply by choosing to play the role of "baas." ("'MASTER HAROLD"' 506) (12)
It is this "illness," this "psychopathology," that explains why a boy Hally's age could be so consistently, so thoughtlessly disrespectful to a man of Sam's magnanimity and, all the while, so seemingly oblivious to his degrading words and actions. Sam not only recognizes Hally's illness; he also recognizes that it is an illness, like that of being the child of an alcoholic, that has been thrust upon him by his immediate environment. Sam's understanding of Hally's illness explains why he chooses to persevere in love, not merely through the course of the play, but through all the years of psychopathological treatment that he has endured from Hally prior to this.
We may wonder why Sam does not rebuke Hally much earlier than he does. (13) Like Durbach, I do not believe that the reason Sam holds back so long can be fully explained by his identity as a Black South African accustomed to receiving such treatment or afraid to respond forcefully because of his cultural situation (510), (14) although such interpretations certainly recognize how the aforementioned "psychopathology of apartheid" directly affects Sam as well as Hally. We must also recognize that in the course of the play Sam articulates his clear awareness of the ways in which each of Hally's illnesses has crippled him. Moreover, we see Sam's clear commitment to help heal Hally--even though such dedication means Sam's greater exposure to the illnesses that perpetuate Hally's habitually ignorant and inappropriate behavior. Thus, in light of 1) Sam's stated relational commitment to Hally; 2) his recognition of Hally's illnesses; 3) his recognition of the limitations of both his own ability to speak freely in an apartheid context and the boy's ability to recognize his continued thoughtlessness; 4) the influence of Tolstoy and his principle of Christian nonresistance in the play; and, finally, 5) the fact that Sam tells Hally after he has spit in his face, "You don't know what you've just done" (57), it seems appropriate to suggest that Sam, all the while, has chosen to imitate the man of magnitude who prayed, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). (15)
Still, after Hally's unmitigated act of contempt, Sam cannot remain silent. Not only would such silence be unspeakably degrading to him, it would also ultimately demonstrate a lack of love for the person he has chosen to love so tenaciously. Rather, Sam challenges the boy--nearing manhood and now no longer ignorant of the depths of his own wickedness--to change his ways and to transcend the prejudice of the system which has shaped him and "in which he participates and from which he benefits" (Cohen 470). Significantly, when Sam reveals to Hally that the reason he left Hally alone after they flew their kite was because Hally was sitting on a "Whites Only" bench, he both recognizes the boy's ignorance and informs him that he can no longer use his ignorance as an excuse: "You were too young, too excited to notice then. But not anymore" (58). In his final words to the departing Hally--who responds to Sam's offer to "Hope for better weather tomorrow" by saying "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore" (59)--Sam says, "I don't believe you. I reckon there's one thing you know. You don't have to sit up there by yourself. You know what that bench means now, and you can leave it any time you choose. All you've got to do is stand up and walk away from it" (59-60).
In Sam's challenge to Hally, who in this final conflict with Sam has graduated from ignorance to knowledge and who now must acknowledge his own shameful role in the injustice of his society, (16) the pervasive presence of Tolstoy in the play may again be remembered. For if Sam is urging Hally to renounce the "Whites Only" bench and the illness that it represents (decades before apartheid is abolished in his nation), he is urging Hally to make a choice similar to that which Tolstoy made a century before. We--and Hally--may remember that Tolstoy, "of his own free will" (to use Hally's phrase), sought to free his serfs some years before Russia officially abolished serfdom in 1861. Indeed, if Hally is in any way intent upon walking away from "that bench," he would do well at this point to follow the example of his man of magnitude. (17)
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(1) I would like to thank Calvin College, whose sabbatical enabled me to write this essay. Thanks also to Brian Ingraffia and to the anonymous reader of Renascence for their careful readings of this essay.
(2) This forthcoming movie is directed by Lonny Price, who played Hally when the play was on Broadway.
(3) For an analysis of Hally and Sam's men of magnitude discussion, see Beck.
(4) In fact, Tolstoy tried to free his serfs in 1856, five years before the 1861 Russian serf emancipation, but his serfs refused his offer. See Maude 1.150-53 and Simmons 158-60. Hally's lack of accuracy on this important point serves early on to undercut his pretense of knowledge. Tolstoy's egalitarian impulse of working with his peasants is best captured by the autobiographical figure of Levin in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, specifically in part 3, chapter 5, in which Levin mows a field with his peasants. For a discussion of the autobiographical nature of Levin, see Muchnic, who calls Levin "one of Tolstoy's most unmistakable self-portraits" (205), as well as Simmons 347, Wilson 278-79, and Watchell 185-86.
(5) Hally's failure to extend this common courtesy is observed by Durbach ("'MASTER HAROLD'" 509-10). We should note the irony that while Hally does not even sacrifice a bit of the family business's food for the sake of Sam and Willie, Tolstoy himself was prepared to sacrifice a significant amount of his wealth to free the serfs whom he inherited.
(6) David E. Hoegberg observes that by admonishing Willie for beating Hilda, Sam "establishes himself from the beginning of the play as a force against violence and injustice" (421).
(7) Tolstoy discusses this passage and what he calls "the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by force" (Kingdom of God 29) at length in What I Believe (316-27) and The Kingdom of God Is within You (29-47).
(8) Sam's hand of forgiveness is not explicitly mentioned in the text of Fugard's play, but it is clearly seen both in the 1982 Yale Repertory production directed by Fugard (Durbach, "'MASTER HAROLD'" 511) as well as in the 1985 film version directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
(9) John O. Jordan notes that the drama "endorses non-violence" but nonetheless sympathizes with critics who criticize Fugard's "squeamishness about 'armed struggle'" (468). For criticism of Fugard's plays as insufficiently radical, see Mshengu. For a response to such criticism, see Durbach, "Sophocles in Africa."
(10) For a discussion of Sam as a Christ figure, see Sutton (2001).
(11) Making no reference to Gerasim, Albert Wertheim notes that Sam has "for years cleaned up the mess in Hally's life" ("Triangles" 90).
(12) Germane to Durbach's observations are those of Aime Cesaire, who notes that the colonial institution serves to "decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him ... to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts" (173), and Paulo Friere's observation that the colonial institution dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor (43). (Bell 1-2 offers a valuable summary of Cesaire and Friere.)
(13) In his interview with Alisa Solomon, Zakes Mokae tells of a black audience member who said that Sam "should have kicked Hally's ass a long time ago" (29).
(14) Durbach contends that Sam's decision to forbear and forgive is "not because the black man is culturally conditioned to patience, nor for fear of putting his job in jeopardy" ("'MASTER HAROLD'" 510); see also Solomon 28-29.
(15) Sutton notes the connection between Sam's words and Jesus' ( 111). Sutton also observes "the relationship between the cross that Sam bears and the apartheid system" (109).
(16) Albert Wertheim calls Sam's final challenge to Hally, "Hally's coming of age. He is forced to learn the realities of prejudice and apartheid, for which he must, with his fellow whites of fair skin, bear the bitter guilt. [At this point] Sam does not let Hally avert his gaze as he had [earlier] [...] In the final moments of the play, Hally is made to see that he is responsible for a filth and unfairness that befouls not just Sam but all people of color in a racialist polity" ("Ballroom Dancing" 152).
(17) Despite Sheila Roberts's pessimistic early analysis of the play (33), the hope of Hally's eventual change is evident in the fact that "MASTER HAROLD" is Fugard's "strongly autobiographical" (Walder 81) account of his own boyhood relationship with Sam Semela, a waiter at his family's business, named, as in the play, the St. George's Park Tearoom in Port Elizabeth (See Fugard Notebooks 25-26). Fugard himself confirms that the play's ending should give the audience "a hope and a confidence in the possibility of a recuperation of humanity" (von Staden 46). The idea that the play's Hally grew up to be the socially conscious Fugard also inspires hopeful interpretations by Amato (213), Sutton ( 122), and Walder (80-85).