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Athol Fugard is regarded as one of South Africa's greatest realist playwrights. His works often dealt with topics that were seen as controversial and taboo in their time. He was someone who was not afraid to push boundaries and fight against the norm of society. He believed that one could make more impact if they stood up for what they believed in rather than accepting the life they were given. Some of his plays were known to be semi-autobiographical and depicted glimpses of his own life.
Athol Fugard was very successful not only because his works were published from the 1960's all the way through to the 1980's, but also because he wrote plays which mass audiences enjoyed watching. His plays were most famous as realist drama which reflected society at the time. He was evidently unhappy with the socio-political situation of his country and found that the only way he could protest was through his writing which realistically showed the prejudices of society at the time. The harshness of Apartheid is shown through most of his plays in order to shed light on the terrible times African people faced.
Realism theatre is the opposite of Romanticism. It is a form of theatre which depicts reality and can portray political events with certain opinions. This perfectly describes Athol Fugard's style. Fugard used realism to protest against the government and found it to be a way in which he could stand up against what he believed to be morally wrong. He used emotive portrayals of everyday situations to make audiences think about their own society. It held a mirror up to the South African society at the time and the government did not want one playwright's ideas infecting the minds of the so called 'inferior races', namely the Black and Indian people.
'Master Harold and the boys' is one of Fugard's best works which was set in South Africa during the Apartheid era. It was originally banned by the South African government, led by the National Party (NP), because it shuns the racism and hatred of everyday apartheid society.
The characters of the play are typical of South African's at the time with the black servant being unable to speak proper English, the young white boy's father who is suffering from an addiction to alcohol and the African acceptance of allowing a white 'master' to treat them as inferior and inflict pain on them without any reasoning. The two main themes shown throughout this play are anger and hatred. Sam, the one African servant, who has been a long suffering victim of these prejudices, has attempted to transcend the hatred and anger. He acts as a surrogate father to Hally by teaching him valuable life lessons, imparting wisdom on the boy and by doing small, kind acts like building a kite for him, all while Hally's father drank himself into a stupor. Hally's father became an alcoholic after he lost a leg in the 2nd World War. The policies of the South African government in the mid 1950s allowed for a certain amount of hatred and anger between whites and blacks. As shown in this play when Hally finds out his tyrant of a father will be returning from the hospital he decides to humiliate the servants, Sam and Willie, by forcing them to call him 'Master Harold' and then continues by unleashing years of suppressed pain and anger onto his two African friends. The play is left open ended to allow the audience's thoughts and imagination, on what could possibly happen, run wild.
The play played an important role in showing the audience all things wrong with their lives. It showed the white people that acting as if they were a superior race would get them nowhere in the future. It showed the African people how they should no longer allow the whites to take such immense control over them and how self-determination would need to be created in order to move away from this ultimate control the white race had. Fugard knew that by writing a play such as this, his audience would be able to relate to all the current affairs in South Africa. The 2nd World War had just ended and this links up with Hally's father having just fought in the war. Apartheid was playing a major part in many individuals' lives as all people were now classified into specific races and then divided into their own categories. From this classification, the idea of superiority vs. inferiority quickly grew.
Another famous play written by Fugard is Blood Knot. This play shows us how classification into different race groups were almost tear families apart. The two brothers live together in a one room shack in a rundown, coloured area of Port Elizabeth. Although Morris and Zachariah are of classified into different race classes they continue to support each other through the hard times they have to endure. Zachariah is illiterate but when he decides to start sending letters to a female pen-pal, he dictates his letters while his brother Morris writes them. The theme of illiteracy vs. literacy in this play shows the audience that people with a darker skin are less likely to be educated than people with that of a lighter skin. This has the long term effects of Zachariah never being able to apply for a proper job, or learn how to read and write later on in life. Morris is so worried that the police will find out they have written letters to a white woman that he wants to burn all evidence immediately. This just shows how terrified the African people were of the White people, and because of what? Their skin colour? When Ethel decides to visit them in Port Elizabeth, Zachariah is so excited but is worried she will not like him for being black and decides to send his fairer skinned half brother, Morris, in his place. When Ethel decides to marry and rather refrain from visiting Zachariah, he is deeply hurt. Morris helps his brother through this as if there were no race barriers dividing them.
This was yet another play of Athol Fugard's which was banned by the government. The two actors who performed this were both arrested and new censorship laws were quickly implemented which stated that racially mixed casts and audiences were strictly prohibited. The government soon began on a rampage with the introduction of new policies in order to show the African people who was in control. This play was to left hanging, there was no real conclusion as Athol Fugard would prefer to have his audience think for quite some time after watching such a show. The play is set in a rundown, coloured area of Port Elizabeth where these two men live in a one room shack. They have barely any money and after Zachariah spends their life savings on a new suit for his brother, Morris is worried about how they will continue to buy food and other basis goods without any money. Aspects such as this are able to impact the audience and show people how different others lives really are.
Whether a Black man or a White man was watching this play, in one way or another they would both be able to take something from this. Their minds would be open to Fugard's ideas about inferior and superior races, and how they are just ways of the government allowing the control over the South African people.
Fugard's plays have not only caused people to think outside of the box, but have also allowed us as the audience to see what life was really like during Apartheid times. We are able to look at the dictator aspects the South African government brought into play and how they used the idea of superior vs. inferior races to place themselves on the top of the social hierarchy. Fugard is able to open our eyes to what our country was once like and is constantly reminding us of what we should try to never return to, a place of segregation, unnecessary hatred and constant abuse against people of a different race. No race is better than any other and Athol makes this clear throughout each and every one of his remarkable plays.