Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
As the play opens on a rainy afternoon in the St. George’s Park Tea Room, two black waiters, Sam and Willie, are cleaning up while discussing a forthcoming dance contest that they plan to enter. Willie is having some difficulty mastering certain steps; Sam, the more expert dancer, is instructing him. There is a light mood of camaraderie between them, as the third character, a seventeen-year-old white boy, Hally, enters.
This is his mother’s tearoom, and it is quickly established that Hally has known these two men since he was a young child, when they were servants in his parents’ boarding house. The relationship, especially with Sam, involves some easy bantering about those bygone days with Hally hiding in Sam’s room, cooperation on homework assignments, and an essay that Hally must write describing a cultural event. What is bothering Hally at the moment, however, is his family situation.
His crippled, alcoholic father has been in the hospital, and when his mother telephones the tearoom, Hally tries unsuccessfully to persuade her to leave him there. She refuses, and when the boy realizes that life with his father at home will resume that very night, he is furious and vents his anger and hatred with some violence. Sam tries to stem Hally’s vitriolic outpouring, but he succeeds only in diverting the boy’s wrath to himself. This culminates in Hally asserting his position as “Master Harold” and finally spitting in Sam’s face. At first, Sam’s reaction is...
(The entire section is 611 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Willie Malopo and Sam Semela are forty-five-year-old black men who work at St. George’s Park Tea Room, a restaurant owned by a white family. The restaurant is empty because of heavy rains, so Willie practices his dance steps, coached by Sam. Willie had entered a dance contest, and he needs some advice from Sam, the more experienced dancer.
Sam, who is more educated than Willie, learns that Willie, who has a history of beating women, has hit his dance partner, Hilda Samuels. Sam encourages Willie to apologize to Hilda, but Willie does not feel he should have to apologize to a woman.
Hally, a seventeen-year-old student whose parents own the restaurant, comes into the Tea Room with a school bag and a wet coat as Sam is demonstrating his dancing ability. Hally learns from Sam that the hospital called and that Hally’s mother has gone there to pick up his disabled, alcoholic father. Hally tries to deny that his father is returning home. Later, Hally tries to convince Sam that he has not heard his mother’s message correctly.
While Sam calls the owner’s son “Hally,” Willie calls Hally “Master Harold.” Hally treats Sam as if he were a fellow pupil, and they discuss topics such as corporal punishment, social reform, and powerful historical people. Hally shares his problems from school as well as his dreams for writing books, short stories, and novels. Sam, who has created a competition between Hally and himself that helps Hally get better grades, tells Hally that he had gone from a fourth-grade to a ninth-grade education because of Hally.
Before they bought the restaurant, Hally’s parents had owned the old Jubilee Boarding House. Sam and Willie, then thirty-eight years old, had been tenants there, but they were called “boys” by Hally’s mother. Hally recalls his experiences visiting in Sam’s room at his parents’ boardinghouse. The best memory for Hally is the day Sam created a kite from brown paper, tomato-box wood, glue made from flour and water, and a tail made from Hally’s mother’s old stockings. Hally is embarrassed about the appearance of the kite, but he loves its flying ability.
Sam explains that the dance is...
(The entire section is 897 words.)