Master Harold... And the Boys

Master Harold... And the Boys Summary and Analysis of Pages 39-50


Hally continues to assert that there is more to life than a dance floor, so Sam counters him by asking if he wants to try ballroom dancing. Hally scoffs, claiming that dancing does not challenge the intellect. Sam concedes, but counters that dancing makes people happy. Hally sighs, wondering if he has ever taught Sam anything. Sam keeps pushing his point, asking Hally that if he were to watch two masters of the art, would it change his mind? Hally rejects Sam's classification of the dance competition as "art." Sam needles Hally, asking him to define art. Hally ponders the question and responds, it is "the giving of meaning to matter...the giving of form to the formless" (40).

Sam asks Hally accompany them to Centenary Hall in two weeks to see the competition and judge for himself. He is surprised at first, but Hally rejects the invitation on the grounds that he has watched Willie and Sam dance for long enough. Sam laughs and claims that Hally needs to watch the pros in action. Willie joins Sam and the two of them lay out the scene – the judges, the music, the dresses, the lights, and the instruments.

Intrigued, Hally admits that attending the dance competition might be intellectually stimulating. He starts to ask more questions about it: when it takes place and if it is culturally significant. It soon becomes obvious that Hally wants to write about the dance competition for his school essay about an annual event of cultural or historical significance. Sam asks if his teacher would allow it, and Hally replies that it might be a stretch since his teacher "doesn't like natives" (43). Hally hopes to use his essay to point out the anthropological importance of singing and dance to black people, allowing the "release of primitive emotions through music" (43).

Excited by this concept, Hally gets his pencil ready and writes as Sam fills in the details of the imaginary scene. Sam describes each one of the judges and puts on a voice to sound like the announcer. He invents the names of several couples who are competing, and then to Willie's delight, announces Willie and Hilda. Neither Sam, Willie, nor Hally have any money for the jukebox, so they pretend there is music. Sam tells Hally how the judges score the dancers' performances.

Hally inquires what happens when couples collide on the dance floor. Stunned, Sam starts laughing and says that collisions never occur. He waxes poetic about how attending the competition is like "being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen" (45). Sam describes the competition as a beautiful world that everyone should aspire to, because in the real world everyone bumps into everyone else, countries bump into each other, and people get hurt. His idealism charms Hally.

Sam continues, citing great figures who had a vision, like Gandhi, the Pope, and General Smuts. His enthusiasm proves to be infectious, and Hally starts to feel a little sense of hope. He decides to call his essay "A World Without Collisions."

The phone rings and Sam answers it. It is Hally's mom again, and the boy is visibly dismayed. He complains that something always comes along to ruin good things. He speaks to his mother, getting increasingly upset when he learns that his dad is coming home. He shouts because he does not want to empty chamberpots and complains that his dad steals money from the till to buy booze. He does not want to be the household peacemaker anymore and announces that he plans to leave home. When it becomes clear that Hally's mom is crying on the other end of the phone call, he apologizes. His dad picks up the line and Hally's entire demeanor changes. He suddenly becomes cheery and upbeat as he tells his dad that his discharge from the hospital is great news. His mom comes back on, and she tells Hally to hide the brandy and to instruct the servants to keep working.

By the time Hally hangs up, he is completely disconsolate. Sam tells him he is sorry for the rough break, and Hally snaps at him for interfering. Willie and Sam try to make Hally feel better by describing the trophy for the winners of the dance competition. Hally sighs and says, "let's stop bullshitting ourselves, Sam" (50). Sam asks if that is what they were doing, and Hally says the world is a "fuck-up" and it'll never change.


In this section, Sam and Hally discuss the merits of ballroom dancing. Hally advocates that it is not intellectual enough to hold his interest, while Sam patiently explains that the competition is not intended to be intellectual. Hally's perspective is in line with his character thus far, because he is extremely arrogant and narrow-minded when it comes to matters of intelligence and academics. He holds the intractable stubbornness that is common in self-absorbed teenagers, as well as the inability to perceive value in things he does not understand.

However, Sam patiently continues his explanation of why ballroom dancing is significant, refusing to back down in the face of Hally's uninformed condescension. Willie joins in excitedly, charmed by the fact that Sam has mentioned him as one of the imaginary competitors (Sam’s innate grace and gentleness are always evident in the way he treats Willie).

Sam keeps pressing his point because he knows that Hally will eventually appreciate his perspective. He understands what Hally is interested in and how to hook him. Sam explains, “it’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead, like you said, Hally, we’re bumping into each other all the time… the whole world is doing it all the time” (46). Hally marvels at Sam's insight and continues the metaphor by asserting, “the United Nations boils down to… a dancing school for politicians!” At this moment, Hally is happy, optimistic, and in perfect sync with Sam and Willie.

Critic John O. Jordan points out that because the black characters in "Master Harold"... and the boys rarely sit down, dancing “[transforms] the enforced posture of subordination into a mode of creative and liberating movement.” Jordan observes that the ballroom dance competition is Fugard's way of “transforming and appropriating white cultural hegemony for black cultural purposes... [and serves as] a figure for the nonracial society of the future that is glimpsed in the play’s closing moments.” During the dance competition, the black participants are able to attain a moment of autonomy and self-expression outside of the oppressive culture of apartheid.

Unfortunately, the phone call from Hally’s mom shatters the harmony and possibility of the dance’s restorative capacity. It is clear from Hally's phone conversation that he feels an abiding sense of shame and hopelessness about his father. From Hally's reaction to the phone call and the flashbacks, it is clear that Hally has always felt isolated because of his father's problems. Meanwhile, he protects himself from facing this harsh reality by building an emotional wall around himself, shoving away Sam's good advice with razor-sharp aggression and violent outbursts. Hally's fear of addressing his complicated feelings towards his father incite his tendency to make someone else feel bad instead.

Hally's fear is a microcosmic representation of the structure of South African apartheid. Dutch colonialists devised the system of racial segregation after 1948 in order to consolidate their power over the country's black population. Afrikaner Nationalists felt threatened by the success of the sizable black workforce and apartheid was their way of grabbing power. Meanwhile, Hally does not appreciate the way that Sam threatens his emotional barriers, and uses Sam's race as a way of discrediting him.