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.