Master Harold... And the Boys

Master Harold... And the Boys Summary and Analysis of Pages 15-26


The older men joke about being punished in jail until Hally, disgusted, tells them to stop and wearily states that the world is a tough place that causes him to go back and forth between hope and despair. Hally believes that his era needs its own social reformer.

Sam begins reading aloud from Hally's textbook. Hally helps him with big words and clarifies some of the more complicated concepts. Hally does not do very well at school because he does make enough of an effort, although he is very bright. Sam and Willie gently tease him.

Sam reads about "Napoleon and the principle of equality" in the history textbook. He is impressed, and says maybe Napoleon was a social reformer. Hally ponders this but rejects the idea on the basis of Napoleon's unsuccessful battles, campaigns, and eventual defeat at Waterloo. He believes that they need to define greatness, suggesting that a "[a man of magnitude] would be somebody who... somebody who benefited all mankind" (19). Sam asks who that might be, and Hally argues for Charles Darwin, who gave the world his groundbreaking theory of evolution.

Sam says Darwin's book was hard to understand, and teases Hally for never finishing the book (which Hally has now hidden safely away in the theology section where no one looks). However, Hally passionately defends Darwin for revolutionizing science and showing human beings where we came from. Sam says that he does not believe Darwin's theory and Hally scoffs, calling Sam ignorant and bigoted. Sam suggests Abraham Lincoln instead, and Hally tells him to stop being so sentimental as Sam was never a slave.

Hally wonders about a "real genius" (20), and Sam now suggests William Shakespeare. Again, Hally is dismayed with this response. However, he paces the room, excited by their game. He decides on Leo Tolstoy as an example of a genius and a social reformer, praising his work with peasants and pointing out that Tolstoy was also a bad student.

Sam accepts the idea of Tolstoy, and then suggests Jesus Christ. Hally is annoyed and forbids religion from entering the discussion because he is an atheist and does not want to waste time arguing about the existence of God. Hally allows Sam one more name. Sam makes Hally guess, alluding to the letters of the name and the important thing that this person did. Hally correctly guesses Sir Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin; he is extremely pleased and laughs happily at Sam's smart choice.

Sam and Hally start reminiscing about how Sam would always look at Hally's books when he was just a small child. They would sit together at the old Jubilee Boarding House, which is where Hally grew up. Hally says he remembers that time as extremely unhappy.

Willie puts on a woman's voice and calls out for Hally. He is pretending to be Hally's mom, who always searched for her son in the "servants' quarters" when he was a child. Hally muses aloud about how he always used to go there because he hated being everywhere else so much. Hally remembers awkwardly barging into the quarters and catching Sam with "Cynthia." Sam laughs and says someday Hally will understand, but Hally waves him away and says he does not like girls right now. He describes all the furniture, posters, and items in Sam's old room.


In this section, Fugard gives the audience/readers insight into Hally's character. At first, he comes across as an intractable, arrogant teenager, but Fugard makes him sympathetic through his difficult relationship with his father and his desire to find meaning and grandeur in a broken world. He harbors a noble wish to identify a man of “magnitude,” someone “who benefit[s] all mankind” (19). This reveals Hally's desire for political progress and change and his disavowal of antiquated religion, which is in direct conflict with his latent racism.

By the end of the play it becomes clear that Hally is not as progressive as he believes. He has clearly absorbed the mentality of apartheid and is incapable of looking at the ways in which he and his family perpetuate racism and oppression. Some of his comments in his discussion with Sam about this theoretical man who has changed or will change the course of history demonstrate his naiveté and ignorance. For example, when Sam objects to Hally’s calling Darwin a genius, Hally scoffs, “It’s the likes of you that kept the Inquisition in business. It’s called bigotry” (20). This an ironic statement because South African apartheid was one of the greatest structures of bigotry in human history.

Later, when Sam calls Abraham Lincoln a "man of magnitude," Hally rebuts, “I might have guessed as much. Don’t get sentimental, Sam. You’ve never been a slave, you know” (20). Hally's blithe dismissal of Lincoln and his claim that Sam does not know what it is like to be slave reveals his narrow-mindedness. It is only a matter of semantics - Sam is not actually enslaved in the same way American slaves were, but during apartheid, black South Africans had limited civil liberties, mobility, and access to the economy. They had no political presence, could only live in segregated “homelands,” and lived under a constant threat of violence and fear. They were second-class citizens in their own land, subject to the grossest inequities, persecution, and humiliation.

Toward the end of this section, the conversation changes to focus on Hally’s memories from his childhood, especially playing with Sam and Willie in the servants’ quarters. Through these recollections, Hally becomes more sympathetic. The audience can now understand that he was a lonely little boy looking for friendship and trying to avoid his irascible and demanding father. Hally himself comments that “those years are not remembered as the happiest ones of an unhappy childhood” (24). Like a director (which is another autobiographical element in the play, because Hally is based on the playwright), Hally sets the stage for his memories, conjuring the sights and smells of the Jubilee Boarding House and offering a detailed description of the room Sam and Willie shared.

Hally’s memories are important to the structure of the play, because it offers a glimmer of hope that Hally's association with Sam and Willie and may eventually lead him to see the how deeply he is entrenched in apartheid. However, neither this memory nor the ballroom dancing scenes change Hally's mindset.