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

"MASTER HAROLD" . . . and the Boys book cover
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Why is Abraham Lincoln viewed by Sam as "a man of magnitude" in "Master Harold" . . . and the Boys?

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

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To be honest and fair to the text, Sam does not give a specific reason why he chooses Abraham Lincoln. Sam states his choice for a man of great magnitude, and Hally immediately begins poking fun at the choice and even teasing Sam about the choice in the first place. Hally's mini tirade ends with Hally ordering Sam to make another choice. Sam's next choice is William Shakespeare, but Hally once again disagrees with the choice. Sam then presses Hally for who the men should be, and Hally provides a couple of names. Hally says that Darwin and Tolstoy are his choices, and Hally does an adequate job of defending his choices. Sam doesn't necessarily agree with the Darwin choice. Sam doesn't see how Darwin did anything to actually benefit mankind. Explaining where we came from doesn't do anything in terms of social justice, and I think that is why Sam provides the name Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did a lot of work to end slavery and the inequality that existed between black people and white people.

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "Master Harold". . .and the boys, Sam considers Abraham Lincoln "a man of magnitude" because Lincoln fought for social justice. Before Sam names Lincoln as a man of magnitude, he tells Hally that he had been reading through Darwin's book On the Origin of Species, and he found a chapter titled "The Struggle for Existence." Sam at first was heartened by such a title because he thought that Darwin would discuss the struggles that people go through, such as the struggle that he as a black man living under apartheid experiences. However, the chapter according to Sam was just about "mistiltoe [sic]." Sam thinks that a true man of magnitude is one who works for the greatness of all mankind, so Abraham Lincoln gets his vote for his role in freeing slaves in America. Although Hally suggests that Sam has "never been a slave" and that South Africans freed blacks in the country, Sam understands that his people are certainly not yet free.

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