Hally has a rebellious streak, which he exercises by flaunting his atheism. His education has given him feelings of scorn for popular art forms such as swing dancing. Hally is largely blind to the racism of South Africa and the way it affects his relationships with Sam and Willie, two black men who work for his mother. His father's drunkenness is a source of shame for Hally and saps his confidence. The fear of exposing his shame causes him to lash out at Sam. As raw as he is, Hally seems teachable.
Sam has a great sense of moral integrity, and he tries to teach Hally and Willie about life. He feels affection for Hally, who, though he has superior social status in racist South Africa, is burdened by a drunken ne'er-do-well for a father. Out of pity, Sam surreptitiously undertakes to build up Hally's pride and self-confidence. His relationship with Hally can best be described as father-son—he flies a kite with him and helps Hally with his homework. The two have also gone through school together, in a sense, since Hally shares his schoolbooks and lessons with the older waiter. With his secondhand education and his own wisdom, Sam is much more insightful than the naive and inexperienced Hally.
Although only a few years younger than Sam, Willie is subordinate to Sam as well as more impulsive and less educated. Willie is playful and naive, even somewhat childish in his reactions. He looks forward to the dance contest in two weeks, but more than once he has violently beaten Hilda, his dance partner and the mother of his baby. His poor treatment of Hilda has caused her to quit the dance contest in disgust. Willie initially downplays his wrongdoing, but he resolves to apologize to Hilda.