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.
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 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...
(The entire section is 1,172 words.)