Great Men Who Served their Own Destruction


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Master Harold and the boys is a play that was written by Athol Fugard and initially produced in 1982. The basis of the story is the authors early life in South Africa and it entails the testing of human relationships by individual and societal forces. The protagonist is Hally who has been depicted as serving his own destruction through his personal faults, errors in actions, understanding and judgment. Oedipus rex on the other hand is a tragedy that is thought to have been written around 430 B.C. The protagonist is Oedipus who just like Hally has his personal faults and mistakes in his actions, judgment and understanding. The faults result to the falling action whereby Oedipus pokes out his eyes while Jocasta, his mother, kills herself. Hally on the other hand loses a worthy friendship and bows down to the harsh societal ways. An examination on how the two characters are responsible for their own destruction will be presented.


Oedipus is the King of Thebes who is well-known for his intellect and the knowledge of solving different riddles. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus deep insight and knowledge enable him to be an excellent ruler who effectively serves the needs of his subjects. A good example is the point where Thebes residents tell him to take action regarding the plague. At this juncture, Oedipus seems to be a step ahead of the citizens since he had already asked Creon to go seek for advice from the oracle located at Delphi (Line 1-3). It is however evident later on that Oedipus swift character is associated with a dangerous side. There is evidence that Oedipus has the ability to act rashly when he narrates the story of killing a band of travelers who tried to shove him off the crossroads. Hence, Oedipus swift character can serve the role of unleashing his weakness (Sophocles, 2005).

Oedipus confidence and swiftness goes on till the extreme end of the play where he calls for Tiresias, interrogates Creon and threatens to eliminate Creon and Tiresias. He swiftly calls the servant who managed to escape the Laius attack, the shepherd who was responsible for bringing him to Corinth and then goes on to poke out his own eyes (Line 28-31). This clearly depicts Oedipus faults of acting without thinking. He lacked the ability to make fair judgment and decisions and hence rushed into acting without taking note of the eventual consequences. Instead of seeking the truth, Oedipus makes a choice of ignoring it. Oedipus and Jocasta are about to find out the truth about the murder in Laius when Oedipus exonerates himself by relying on a single detail. Though Jocasta is told that strangers were responsible for Laius murder, Oedipus knows very well that he acted solely when he murdered a man under a similar situation (Sophocles, 2005).

Hence, Oedipus ignorance and willingness to ignore the truth is a personal fault that leads to his downfall. If only he took the step of finding out the truth earlier, the eventual outcome would have been totally different. It is clear that Oedipus is not willing to speak the ultimate truth. He does not tell Jocasta the truth about the words of the oracle stating that he would kill his own father and sleep with his mother (Line 49-51). Oedipus experiences the details and circumstances of daily life but ignores or pretends not to take notice of them. Despite being well-known for his insight, quick understanding and clear-sightedness, Oedipus eventually finds out that he has been blind to the reality or truth for several years. He resorts to blinding himself by poking out his own eyes. This perfectly shows that Oedipus also had his personal faults that led to his downfall and freeing of his country, Thebes (Sophocles, 2005).

Generally, it is possible for human beings to have a vast amount of knowledge and insight. It is however clear that even the most knowledgeable human being has his or her personal faults and is therefore liable to making mistakes. For this reason, it can be presumed that the capability for knowledge in human beings is unreliable and slightly limited. Though Oedipus seems to have vast knowledge, understanding and wisdom at the beginning of the play, his weaknesses are eventually exposed when they result to a great downfall and detrimental consequences. Ignorance can never be used as a justification for ones action. A wise person should be able to make sound decisions and think carefully of the eventual consequences prior to acting (Sophocles, 2005)

The play Master Harold and the boys features a white boy aged seventeen years called Hally and is the Master Harold. The boy appears to be knowledgeable and is devoted to educating Sam, their black servant. Hally has extensive knowledge from books but lacks the social knowledge to enable him control his feelings and cope with the ways of the world. It is ironical that Hally thinks he is the one teaching Sam but in reality it is Sam who is teaching Hally the ways of the world. The South African Apartheid society of the 1950s has greatly affected Hally who holds the notion that whites are superior to non-whites. He also holds the view that his drunken father can never be a good parent to him and is therefore ashamed of him. Sam tries as much as he can to teach Sam the importance of appreciating and loving his father despite his alcoholism (Fugard, 1984).

At the beginning of the play, Hally is portrayed as a young man who is knowledgeable and self-assured but eventually turns out to be an embittered person who takes out his anger to his best friend, Sam. Hence, Hally had the inability to control his anger and this weakness eventually led to him betraying his best friend forgetting all the memories that they shared. It is ironical that hally is more educated compared to Sam but fails to understand the basics surrounding discrimination, love and hatred. He fails to uphold the aspect of equality and believes to be superior to Sam. Hally conforms to social privilege and power and decides to end his relationship with Sam by viewing him as an inferior black man. The ultimate expectation is that since Hally went to school and is more learned, he should be able to make fair judgment and decisions (Fugard, 1984).

Though Hally later realizes the consequences of his actions, his pride does not allow him to apologize to Sam who had for many years played the role of his friend and mentor. Hally bows down to the societys voice in his ear as well as his pride. It is rather ironical that Sam, a black man had the inner strength and core to teach a white boy who was more socially and physically privileged. Hally, who had had formal education appears less intellectual and knowledgeable compared to Sam who did not have formal education. Hallys ignorance and assumption of knowing it all is clearly depicted in the play. He assumes that since he has theoretical knowledge, he does not need to learn about the ways of the world. He believes to be the one teaching Sam about the concepts learnt in the classroom but in real sense it is Sam who is teaching Hally about life as well as the ways of the world (Fugard, 1984).

Sams efforts to teach Hally on the need to be optimistic and look up proved to be worthless since Hally resorted to betraying their friendship instead of appreciating it. Sam had taken time to learn and know more about his friend Hally, who later chose to view him as an inferior black man.


It is clear that each and every individual is liable to mistakes despite the vast amount of knowledge and insight that he or she may possess. Oedipus is initially portrayed as a knowledgeable man with great insight. His blindness to the truth and swift character eventually result to his downfall. The same case applies to Hally a white boy who has formal education. Though claiming to be knowledgeable Hally eventually makes irrational judgment and decisions that result to him betraying his friendship and bowing down to the dark ages of racism and societal discrimination.


Fugard, A. “Master Harold” and the boys. Penguin Books, 1984

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Publishing, 2005

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