Literature Study GuidesMaster Harold And The BoysSection 5 Master Harold And Reconciliation Summary

Master Harold... and the Boys | Study Guide

Athol Fugard

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Master Harold... and the Boys | Section 5 (Master Harold and Reconciliation) | Summary



Hally's reverie about his essay on ballroom dancing is shattered when the phone rings. Sam answers; it's Hally's mother again. Hally is immediately dejected, even before he talks to her. "Just when you're enjoying yourself," he tells Sam, "someone or something will come along and wreck it."

His father is coming home from the hospital, says Hally's mother. Hally is angry, and the audience learns why he dreads his father's presence. His father will steal from the till at the tearoom, and he'll steal from Hally, too. Hally is repelled by having to care for his disabled alcoholic father: "I'm sick and tired of emptying chamberpots full of phlegm and piss," he says. Hally's father comes to the phone, and Hally conceals his feelings. "Welcome home, chum," says Hally.

To console Hally, Sam says, referring to the dance metaphor, "That sounded like a bad bump." In response Hally snaps at Sam. Meanwhile, Sam and Willie try to return to talking about the dance contest. Hally calls the dance contest "a bloody useless dream." He smashes his father's brandy bottle and goes on a tirade about "the cripples," whom Sam has left out of his dance scheme. "They're also out there dancing ... like broken spiders," says Hally. Cripples like his father, with his "one leg and a pair of crutches," will turn the dance floor into "a shambles," says Hally.

The more explicitly Hally badmouths his father, the more Sam warns him to be careful. "It's your father you're talking about," says Sam. He feels shame for the way Hally disrespects his own father. Hally tells him to "get on with your bloody work and shut up." Hally also says his father is Sam's boss. Sam disagrees, saying his mother pays him. Hally continues to insist Sam show him respect, until finally he demands Sam call him Master Harold, "just like Willie [does]."

Sam tries to get Hally to take it back. Instead, Hally tells a racist joke his father told him. The joke is about a black man's ass, and the punchline turns on the double sense of fair as meaning "just or right" and fair as meaning "pale." Hally says it's "a bloody good joke." Enraged, Sam takes down his trousers and shows his butt to Hally. Sam then tells Willie they should finish their work and leave for the night. Unwilling to drop the fight, Hally spits in Sam's face. Sam reacts with sadness. He says he will indeed call him Master Harold from then on, but he also says Hally has hurt himself in doing this.

Then Sam reveals all he has done for Hally. He says a long time ago he promised he would try to make up for Hally's father's behavior. Sam would nurture Hally and give him a sense of confidence. He reminds Hally of a time he came to ask Sam for help. His father was dead drunk and Hally couldn't get him home from the pub. Sam carried Hally's father home on his back. The incident made Hally ashamed of his father, and Sam swore to himself he would stop Hally from feeling ashamed of himself. This was the reason he made the kite, he now tells Hally, to boost Hally's confidence.

The kite incident is different in Sam's retelling of it. He says when Hally got tired, he sat down on a whites-only bench. Hally was "too young, too tired to notice" the sign, but Sam had to leave Hally sitting there by himself. Speaking metaphorically, Sam then warns that Hally will be sitting on the bench by himself for a long time, if he's not careful.

Chastened, Hally asks Willie to lock up. He doesn't know how to speak to Sam now. Sam makes the first move, asking if they should try flying another kite. Sam says, "You don't have to sit up there by yourself." Sam says Hally can choose to walk away from the whites-only bench. Hally leaves the tearoom. Willie tells Sam he will apologize to Hilda and promise to not beat her. In a burst of enthusiasm, Willie spends his bus money on the jukebox. Sam and Willie dance together as American jazz singer Sara Vaughn (1924–90) sings, "Little man you've had a/ busy day."


When he is upset about his father, Hally reacts by projecting gloom onto everything. This time he reacts to his conversation with his father by making reference to a universal law: "Just when you're enjoying yourself," he tells Sam, "someone or something will come along and wreck it." However, Hally's father does not just interrupt the conversation with Sam. The father also disrupts Sam and Hally's dream of a perfected human society. Now Hally has an objection to this vision of peaceful coexistence: "the cripples," Hally says, are "also out there dancing ... like broken spiders." For Hally, his father's disability is a symbol of his moral failings. Hally doesn't see how people can get along if there are some self-dealing, manipulative people like his father. It is ableist to think someone with "one leg and a pair of crutches" cannot dance gracefully, and even more ableist to think that outward disability is a sign of some inner moral failing. However, in his anger at his father, this is how Hally uses the disability: as a symbol of evil.

Although Hally is angry at his father, he takes it out on Sam and Willie, and he does so by identifying with his father. He claims Sam should respect his father, who employs him. In saying this, Hally is also demanding to be respected as a white man and a boss. When Hally insists Sam call him "Master Harold" rather than "Hally," his relationship with Sam is threatened and Hally's insistence on being called "Master" fits into a system of domination in South Africa and hurts Sam. But before he can remind Hally he is more than an inferior to the young boy, Hally further identifies with his father by telling a racist joke his father had told, and he adopts his father's views on it, calling it "bloody good." Sam can see Hally is actually disrespecting his own father—Hally has been tearing down his father's image by speaking of him so callously. As Hally admits later, he loves his father, and Sam thinks Hally is being false to that love when he speaks so harshly.

Sam reveals how well he knows Hally, and in the process he teaches the audience about his relationship to the boy. By taking pity on him and vowing to build up his self-confidence, Sam has been like a father to Hally. In Hally, Sam saw an ashamed, beaten-down boy who was taking his shame over his father and applying it to himself. Thus, Hally's embarrassment about Sam's homemade kite is really about Hally's own shame—anything associated with Hally might be just as unworthy as he feels himself to be, and the kite risks exposing this unworthiness in public. This also puts Hally's friendship with Sam in a new light. Perhaps Hally was comfortable in Sam and Willie's company, not because he overlooked racist stereotypes, but because of them. Feeling unworthy, Hally may have sought the company of other stigmatized individuals.

Hally's insults to Sam put their relationship at grave risk. It is Sam who takes the risk of repairing the relationship by saying he has "no right to tell you what being a man means if I don't behave like one myself." Sam doesn't spell it out, but behaving like a man seems to mean, for Sam, asking for forgiveness and trying to repair the relationship. The story about the kite also presents Hally with a choice, as Sam points out. Metaphorically speaking, Hally will be sitting on the whites-only bench by himself "for a long time to come" if he does not man up and reach out to Sam.

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