Literature Study GuidesMaster Harold And The BoysSection 3 A Disturbing Phone Call Summary

Master Harold... and the Boys | Study Guide

Athol Fugard

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Mar. 2019. Web. 14 Aug. 2020. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, March 29). Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide." March 29, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2020.


Course Hero, "Master Harold... and the Boys Study Guide," March 29, 2019, accessed August 14, 2020,

Master Harold... and the Boys | Section 3 (A Disturbing Phone Call) | Summary



Hally's mother calls to talk to him about his father. Hally asks whether his father has had "a bad turn," but the news is the opposite: his father is coming home. Hally pleads with his mother not to bring his father home; he tells her to somehow extend the hospital stay. He suggests lying to his father, or bribing him: "If he's going to behave like a child, treat him like one." Hally complains he has to "spend half the night massaging his gammy [injured] leg," and this will make him tired at school.

When Hally hangs up, he tries to cover up his feelings and the frank things he has just said. He brusquely relays to Sam and Willie an order from his mother: "when you're finished with the floors, you must do the windows." He also claims, falsely, his only concern is for his father's health. The more Sam tries to speak reasonably and comfortingly about the situation, the angrier Hally gets. He also starts talking pessimistically about the ways of the world, saying disappointment is "a fundamental law of the Universe."

Hally tries to get down to his homework, an essay about "an annual event of cultural or historical significance." Sam and Willie get back to their work, and they also practice dance steps. Willie complains again about Hilda. "I gave her a good hiding," he says. Sam replies, chiding, "You mean a bad one." Sam tells Willie he has few choices: withdraw from the contest, find a new dance partner, or find Hilda and reconcile with her. Willie raises objections to every option, and he turns on Sam: "It was you who start me ballroom dancing," he says, meaning Sam is responsible for his present unhappiness.


The audience hears only Hally's side of the play's two telephone conversations. With this one, the audience already knows the mother called earlier with news about his father and hospitalization. Therefore, when Hally says "Oh God!" to his mother, it seems likely his father is dead or at least in critical condition. When the audience learns the truth—Hally wishes his father would stay away—it underlines how complicated Hally's feelings about his father are. At this point in the play, what comes through most strongly are Hally's shame and anger.

As at the beginning of the play, Hally deals with his shame and anger by lashing out at Willie and Sam. However, Fugard uses this dynamic to demonstrate more than just Hally's particular personality. Hally's reaction shows why white people might choose to uphold the institution of apartheid. The opportunity to boss Sam and Willie around offers Hally the balm of acting superior to someone, precisely when he is feeling low and ashamed. In Section 2 of the play, Sam asked, "Why strange?" meaning, what's so strange about a black man and a white boy together? Sam's question exposes the fact that there is no rational basis for racial prejudice. But Hally's attitudes in this section show there are powerful irrational reasons to hold on to racial prejudice: it offers the dominating group a kind of psychological solace. Throughout "Master Harold"... and the Boys, Fugard will show how corrosive that solace is, for white and black people.

The three onstage characters in "Master Harold"... and the Boys are males. The unseen female characters demonstrate some of the burdens of patriarchy. A patriarchal society is one in which men hold the power and women are excluded from power. Willie beats Hilda and has done so on more than one occasion. She is not only his dance partner; she is also the mother of his baby, although it appears Willie and Hilda are not a couple at this time. It is hard to judge the tone of Sam's rebuke of Willie when he says Willie gave Hilda "a good bad hiding." Sam is almost always gentle, so this could be the reason he talks lightly to Willie.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Master Harold... and the Boys? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!

Stuck? We have tutors online 24/7 who can help you get unstuck.
A+ icon
Ask Expert Tutors You can ask You can ask You can ask (will expire )
Answers in as fast as 15 minutes