Sam, a black South African man in his forties. Sam has worked for many years for a white family and is a trusted presence in their lives. A figure of dignity and wisdom, he has become in many ways a surrogate father for the family’s young son, Hally, whose real father is an alcoholic. Sam’s genuine affection for the boy is tempered by a sense of self-worth that will not allow him to accept humiliating treatment from Hally as long as their relationship is a friendship not defined by the restrictions of apartheid. When Hally’s actions alter the tone of that relationship, Sam becomes a symbol of the humanity of black South Africa, forced into a position of subservience by an inhumane social system.
Harold (Hally), a white, seventeen-year-old South African boy. Hally’s parents own the tearoom where Sam and Willie work and where the play’s action is set. A student, Hally enjoys showing off his knowledge to Willie and Sam, already displaying an air of superiority and condescension although the three enjoy an easy familiarity. Hally is also unhappy and confused, and he looks to Sam for the male guidance that his own father has failed to provide. His resentment toward his father, however, gradually becomes refocused on Sam as Hally assuages his own feelings of humiliation by insisting that Sam treat him as his superior. Halley’s actions toward his longtime friend create an irreparable rift in what has been one of the central relationships in his young life.
Willie Malopo, a black man about Sam’s age, employed in the tearoom owned by Hally’s parents. Less thoughtful and reflective than Sam, Willie is also less deeply involved in the lives of Hally and his parents. His relationship with Hally falls within the traditional boundaries of that between a black South African and the son of his white employers, and it becomes symbolic within the story of the type of relationship that Sam and Hally have so far transcended as the play opens and into which they will fall by its close.
Hally Seventeen-year old Hally. the white son of the owners of the St. George's Park Tea Room, is the "Master Harold" of the title. Hally appears devoted to Sam. one of two black waiters employed by his family's business. The young man takes great pride in "educating" Sam through brief recapitulations of lessons learned from books and in the classroom. But, in reality, it has been Sam who has been "educating'' the young man, teaching him the ways of the world. Hally, however, has been affected by both the South African apartheid society of the late 1950s, which has taught him to view nonwhites as second-class citizens, and his drunken father's inability to serve as a parent When Hally learns that his father is coming home from the alcoholic ward of the local hospital, he is conflicted with feelings of both love and shame The self-assured young man of the beginning of the play degenerates into an embittered child who lashes out at the nearest target—Sam. At the play's conclusion, the student who had all the answers for his "pupil" leaves the tea room confused and in pain.
Fugard himself served as the model for Hally. As he recalled in a 1961 entry in his memoir Notebooks , the man whose full name is Harold Athol Lannigan Fugard (he was called Hally as a youth) was ashamed of his father, a lame man with a drinking problem. But, Fugard did not simply retell what happened...
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in his life, choosing instead to embellish and slightly alter the story For instance, Fugard was fourteen at the time of the play's pivotal episode, but he makes his character Hally three years older. Additionally, the incident where Hally spits in Sam's face did not take place in the cafe but while Hally (Fugard) was bicycling. In the same entry dated March, 1961, Fugard vaguely "recall[s] shyly haunting the servants' quarters in the well of the hotel... a world [he] didn't fully understand.'' He refers in this entry to Sam as "the most significant, the only friend of [his] boyhood years."
Master Harold See Hatty
Sam Sam, a black man in his mid-forties, is a waiter at the St. George Park Tea Room owned by Hally's parents. He has been employed by the family a long time, at least since the days of the Jubilee Boarding House. He has served as a father figure to young Hally while the boy's father spends time in and out of the hospital recovering from bouts of alcoholism. After one particularly humiliating episode for Hally, where Sam carried the boy's drunken father home on his back, Sam made a kite for Hally out of brown paper and tomato-box wood with water and flour for glue. He built the kite because he wanted Hally to "look up, be proud of something.'' When Hally, in frustration and rage at things beyond his control, spits in his face, Sam offers his young friend a chance at reconciliation An offer that is refused by Hally.
Not just a servant, Sam is a recognized expert, at least by Willie and Hally, on dance He offers advice to both his fellow waiter, Willie, as well as Hally on the intricacies and symbolic nature of ballroom dancing. “There’s no collisions out there, Hally. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That's what the moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on that dance floor is like ... like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don't happen ... it's beautiful because that is what we want life to be like.''
The character of Sam is based on Sam Semela, a Basuto (a tribe of people who live in the Lesotho region of South Africa) who worked for Fugard's family for fifteen years. Fugard's mother fired Sam when he became careless and began arriving late for work. Fugard remembers his mother saying, "His work went to hell. He didn't seem to care no more.''
Willie Willie also works at the St. George Tea Room as a waiter. Much of his attention is centered on the upcoming ballroom dancing championships. He takes much good-natured ribbing from Sam about practicing his dancing with a pillow. When Hally arrives, Willie assumes the servant role, referring to Hally as "Master Harold." Throughout much of the play, Willie observes, but rarely comments on, the exchanges between Sam and Hally. In the pivotal scene where Hally spits in Sam's face, it is Willie who groans ("long and heartfelt" according to the stage directions); it is Willie who stops Sam from hitting Hally; it is Willie who says that if Hally had spit in his face, he would also want to hit him hard, but would probably just go cry in the back room. Ultimately, Willie crystallizes the emotion of the play "Is bad. Is all bad in here now ''