"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys Questions and Answers
by Athol Fugard

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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Explain the relationship between Hally and his parents, and Sam's role and his influence in Hally's life in "Master Harold"... and the Boys.

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Let us start with Hally's relationship with his parents. He does not have much of a relationship with his parents.  Hally's relationship with his father is terrible.  That is mainly because Hally's father is a deadbeat and a drunk.  He is wealthy enough to have servants, but being wealthy does not automatically make someone a good parent.  The audience never actually get to see Hally's father.  We learn about him through his conversation with Sam and Willie as well as his phone conversations with his mother.  It's pretty clear to most audiences that Hally most definitely does not want his father home.  

Oh, well, I give up now. Why did you do it, Mom? . . . Well, I just hope you know what you've let us in for . . . [Loudly] I said I hope you know what you've let us in for! It's the end of the peace and quiet we've been having. [Softly.] Where is he?  [Normal voice.] He can't hear us from there. But for goodness sake, Mom, what happened? I told you to be firm with him . . . then you and the nurses should have held him down, taken his crutches away . . . I know only too well he's my father! . . . I'm not being disrespectful, but I'm sick and tired of emptying stinking chamberpots full of phlegm and urine. 

Hally wants his father to stay in the hospital.  His motivation is purely selfish.  He does not care if his father gets better in the hospital.  Hally wants his father there, so his father will not be at home.  There is zero relationship there.  

Hally's relationship with his mother is not that much better.  He might like her more than he likes his father, but he does not respect her that much more.  When it becomes clear to Hally that his mother is bringing his dad home, Hally speaks to his mother in a verbally abusive and disrespectful manner.  

Well, then, don't blame me when I fail my exams at the end of the year . . . Yes! How am I expected to be fresh for school when I spend half the night massaging his gammy leg? 

Sam, and his relationship with Hally, is the antithesis of Hally's relationship with his father.  It is easy to think that Hally and Sam are friends, but I do not think that this is the best description of their relationship.  The age gap is simply too large to think of Sam and Hally as friends; however, they are much more than servant and master.  The relationship is akin to how a father and son relationship should look.  Sam takes Hally out to fly kites, they banter and joke with each other, Sam helps Hally study for school, and the two debate about history and philosophy together.  Unfortunately, their relationship is destroyed forever by the end of the play.  Hally is so enraged that his father is coming home that he takes it out on Sam and Willie.  Hally becomes verbally abusive to Sam and insists that Sam call him "Master Harold."  Sam agrees to do this, but he makes sure that Hally knows that the relationship will be forever changed.  

Ja, well, you've done it . . . Master Harold. Yes, I'll start calling you that from now on. It won't be difficult anymore. You're hurt yourself, Master Harold. I saw it coming. I warned you, but you wouldn't listen. You've just hurt yourself bad. And you're a coward, master Harold. . . You don't know all of what you've just done . . . Master Harold. It's not just that you've made me feel dirtier than I've ever been in my life. . . 

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Based on the conversations that Hally has with his mother over the telephone regarding is father's condition, the audience gathers that Hally has a strained, distant relationship with his parents.  It is apparent that Hally's father has a drinking problem, one likely brought on by his inability to properly cope with his physical disability.  Hally's mother does not stand up to his father, and instead she tries to appease Hally's father and to make him comfortable.  Hally appears to be ashamed of his father's lifestyle, and he is angry at his mother for "allowing" this to continue.  Sam recalls times when he took Hally out to play because the father was unable to do these things with Hally.  Sam serves as a father-figure in many ways for Hally--he tries to teach him the life lessons that his father is unable to teach him.  Near the end of the play, Sam reminds Hally of all these times and he makes Hally aware of the realities that he never noticed because he was too small (i.e. Sam not being able to sit on the bench with Hally because it was a "whites only" bench).  Sam wants to teach Hally to be a better man and to resist the injustices of their society.

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