The claims for the inclusion of MHATBs in a specified course of secondary school English study are entirely justified. This play by Fugard, while set in the specific South African locale of Port Elizabeth, reflects the universal and age-old tensions, which exist between those who occupy a dominant position in society and those who do not. These tensions are brought into even sharper focus by issues of race. In addition, Fugard has crafted both character and dialogue expertly to enhance the dramatic tension.
Lastly, the playwright demonstrates considerable adroitness in the use of motifs to provide an extra dimension to themes, character and dialogue. It is on these grounds themes, character and dialogue, and the use of motifs that the case for MHATBs inclusion in a course of study will be supported. Conflict forms the basis for most novels and plays, and MHATBs is no exception. In this play, however, the major vehicle for conflict is the existence of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was a term used euphemistically by the Botha government.
It means separate development, but the practical application of it ensured that the white minority maintained its dominant position, at the expense of the black, Cape coloured and Asian majority. This is indeed fertile soil for the spade work of any dramatist, but it does not provide a guarantee against clumsy development or poor writing. Fugards major victory is to take an already powerful issue and deal with it in an equally powerful, and yet sometimes subtle and sensitive way. The features of racism are often blunt, as they are for example in Courtneys novel, The Power of One.
It is hard to mask racial hatred. Fugard, however, demonstrates that racist sentiments can often be conveyed more subtly through attitudes and interaction. Hally, for example, makes many comments that he would in no way regard as prejudiced. We, however, know differently. Example: kite. The waters of racism are further muddied by the fact that Sam and Hally have shared so many experiences that a real affection has developed between them. Fugard has spoken many times of a similar adolescent experience as being the wellspring for the play, not simply the experience of apartheid in general.
Prejudice can take many forms and Fugard is not content to explore its racial form alone. We never see Hallys father on the stage, but we are in no doubt as to Hallys opinion of him. It appears that the mere suggestion that his father will be returning home from hospital is enough to mortify Hally. Adolescents reading this play will identify with the discomfort that Hally feels with parents, but few will be as ashamed of theirs as Hally is of his father. His shame comes close to, but never quite succeeds, in drowning his love.
MHATB also deserves to be included in the English course on the strength of its excellent portrayal of character and its use of dialogue. All three characters in the play Sam, Hally and Willie are successful creations in communicating Fugards point of view to the reader. In addition, they are drawn subtly and possess considerable nuance. Hally, for example, does not fit the typical mould of the racist. He is intelligent, articulate and enjoys a generally affectionate relationship with the two waiters in his mothers employ.
Hally would consider that he is a fair-minded individual, the last person to be accused of harbouring racist attitudes. However, under pressure, the racism comes to the surface. Hes white and thats good enough for you. The playwright is also skilful in the way he develops the character of Sam and Willie. They may share the same colour skin and the same depressing social circumstance, but they are very different people in other ways. Sam possesses an inquiring mind, a prodigious memory and an acute perception of the world around him.
He has an engaging sense of humour and is a quick learner. Clearly, someone with Sams manifest abilities would occupy a more prestigious station in other societies than that of waiter. Sam has in fact acted as a surrogate father to Hally. Fugard artfully develops the intimacy that exists between them so that the falling out, which occurs late in the play is even more riveting and moving. Willie, on the other hand, is portrayed along the lines of a stereotype. Willies character is that which most whites would look upon blacks.
He is simple, straightforward, predictable, unfailingly cheerful and almost childish in the way he interacts with others. Willie has none of Sams complexities and subtleties. In the drawing and sustaining of all three characters, Fugards skills will be appreciated by high school readers. In justifying this play as a worthy inclusion to a course of study, mention must be made of the playwrights use of motifs. Many novelists and playwrights exploit symbolism in their writing, and in so doing providing an extra dimension to theme, character and plot.
The mockingbird in Harper Lees novel for example, is used adroitly by the author to deepen the theme of prejudice, while in Lord of the Flies, the conch becomes far more than an object, which makes a noise when blown. In that novel it becomes the most powerful symbol of the order that the boys initially try to impose on their island. In MHATB, Fugard similarly, chooses two pastimes and makes them significant in terms of the play as a vehicle for expression. The first of these is kites and kite flying. When Hally was young, Sam made a kite for him to relieve the depressing situation that the boy experienced on a daily basis.
However the notion of kite flying is developed at length, and in so doing, it takes on a larger symbolic significance. The flying of a kite represents opportunity, enjoyment and even hope for a better South Africa. It is also used by Sam to suggest that the relationship between Hally and himself is retrievable: Should we try again Hally? Fly another kite, I suppose. It worked once and this time I need it as much as you do. Ballroom dancing is also an important symbolic tool. Hally is initially dismissive, but Sam manages to convince him that it is at least aesthetically pleasing.
In fact, Sam goes further and extends the figurative nature of ballroom dancing, as part of his vision for a better future. Even Hally is impressed by the breadth of this metaphorical insight. (Genuinely impressed) Youve got a vision Sam! Ballroom dancing complements kite flying to suggest that harmony and beauty should be what we are striving for, not ugliness and the perpetuation of prejudice. Clearly, MHATB is an outstanding play. It thoroughly deserves to be included in any English course because of its excellent portrayal of the themes, characters and use of motifs. Mr. Fugard, take a bow.