"Master Harold" … and the Boys

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Willie Character Analysis

Willie is also a middle aged black worker in ’s mother’s shop. He is a less talented dancer than , and has neither taken it upon himself to learn Hally’s school lessons nor has he acquired Sam’s wisdom. Though he isn’t the fastest learner, Willie is diligent, and by the play’s end, thanks to Sam’s gentle prodding and, inadvertently, Hally’s racist outburst, Willie resolves to cut off the cycle of abuse he thoughtlessly promotes when he beats the women close to him. Willie’s resolution to stop beating his dancing partner, Hilda, is among the play’s more hopeful moments, a sign that it is possible for things to get better.

Willie Quotes in "Master Harold" … and the Boys

The "Master Harold" … and the Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Willie or refer to Willie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage International edition of "Master Harold" … and the Boys published in 2009.
"Master Harold" … and the Boys Quotes

SAM: That’s your trouble. You’re trying too hard.
WILLIE: I try hard because it is hard.
SAM: But don’t let me see it. The secret is to make it look easy.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Willie (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Sam and Willie are at work in St George's tea room, but because there are no customers, Sam has been reading comic books and Willie has been singing and practicing a ballroom dance routine. Willie has asked Sam to judge his dancing, and Sam responds that Willie is "too stiff" and looks like he is trying too hard, advising Willie that "the secret is to make it look easy." This exchange immediately establishes a dynamic wherein Sam, who is slightly older and has more experience of the world, imparts knowledge and advice to Willie. As in this instance, this advice often takes the form of telling Willie the "proper" way to conduct himself. 

Note that Sam's words here have a double meaning, born out of the symbolic significance of ballroom dance in the play. It's certainly true that giving the appearance of effortlessness is an important element of dance; at the same time, Sam's advice is also relevant to his and Willie's status as black South Africans in the Apartheid era. Their subordinate social position and role as servants to the white family who own the tearoom means life is certainly hard for them, yet Sam's words suggest that they must not reveal this outwardly. Maintaining a smooth, effortless "performance" is arguably important in order to retain a sense of dignity, or simply to stay employed and out of trouble. Either way, Willie's advice proves that life for black South Africans is akin to a complex dance, requiring skill that must be practiced and perfected via shared knowledge. 

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Love story and happy ending! She’s doing it all right, Boet Sam, but it’s not me she’s giving happy endings. Fuckin’ whore!

Related Characters: Willie (speaker), Sam
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Following his advice about making dance look effortless, Sam has told Willie that ballroom dance must look "happy," evoking glamour and romance. Willie has asked what romance is, and when Sam explains that it is a "love story with a happy ending," Willie responds that his dance partner, Hilda, is giving others "happy endings," and he calls her a "fuckin' whore." Again, this passage emphasizes how Willie's rough and ignorant nature contrasts with the wisdom and restraint shown by Sam. Willie's violent anger towards Hilda suggests he enacts the frustration he feels as a result of his own oppression on her. Indeed, he blames Hilda for the fact that he does not have "happy endings," and his habit of beating her is an example of a cycle of abuse, an important theme in the play.  

I’ve been far too lenient with the two of you. But what really makes me bitter is that I allow you chaps a little freedom in here when business is bad and, what do you do with it? The foxtrot! Specially you, Sam. There’s more to life than trotting around a dance floor and I thought at least you knew it.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam, Willie
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Hally has been behaving in an increasingly cruel and strict manner with Sam and Willie, even rapping Willie on the bum with his ruler. Having at first complained that the two men were distracting him from his homework, Hally then abandons his homework and begins strolling around with the ruler in his hands "like a little despot," telling Sam and Willie that he has been "too lenient" with them. The manner in which Hally quickly assumes the role of a pompous, unforgiving ruler is disturbing. Although the chronology of events makes it clear that Hally's obnoxious behavior directly results from his fear of his father, Hally's sudden change of character suggests that compassion and friendship give way all too easily to cruelty. 

Regardless of his friendly relationship to Sam, Hally clearly believes that––as a white person––it is natural for him to rule over Sam and Willie, even though they are much older than he is. Indeed, the tone Hally adopts implies that he is wiser and more mature than Sam and Willie, although it is obvious from Hally's behavior that he is still very much a child with a naïve and somewhat foolish understanding of the world. Hally's comment that there is "more to life" than the foxtrot is misguided, considering the dance represents fundamental themes of struggle, harmony, and propriety within the world of the play. It is also ironic that Hally is precociously scolding Sam for taking the foxtrot too seriously, considering the reality of Sam's life is far more harsh and complicated than Hally's. 

You’re right. We musn’t despair. Maybe there’s some hope for mankind after all. Keep it up, Willie.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Willie
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Hally has asked Sam if it is enough to throw oneself into the "dream" of ballroom dance, and Sam responds that this dream can be the start of actual progressive action. Hally concludes that the United Nations is "a dancing school for politicians," and announces that he now feels more hopeful about the future of mankind. This sudden change of opinion illustrates the power of art to inspire optimism; however, Hally's newly hopeful mindset soon shatters, implying that this power is somewhat limited. Note the irony of the fact that Sam and Willie remain consistently hopeful while Hally is quick to resort to a pessimistic, resentful attitude. Although all three characters experience struggle, Hally is arguably in a far better position due to his social, racial, and economic status. 

HALLY: To begin with, why don’t you start calling me Master Harold, like Willie.
SAM: Do you mean that?
HALLY: Why the hell do you think I said it?
SAM: If you make me say it once, I’ll never call you by anything else again

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam (speaker), Willie
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Hally gets angry at Sam, tells him to stop bossing him around, and orders Sam to start calling him "Master Harold." Shocked, Sam warns Hally that if he is forced to call him that once, he will never go back to calling him Hally. This is a climactic moment in the play, in which Sam and Hally's friendship reaches a dramatic breaking point. Up until this interaction, Hally's treatment of Sam has swung wildly between kindness and cruelty, and so far Sam has mostly tolerated this, deliberately ignoring Hally's callous behavior.

However, Sam's words here point to the fact that calling Hally "Master Harold" would represent an irreparable rupture in their relations, such that their friendship would become another broken thing with no chance of recovery. This claim demonstrates the significance of the word "master," a term that has more potential for damage than all the explicitly racist insults that Hally has thus far used. Sam can perhaps dismiss these insults as childish foolishness; however, by insisting that Sam calls him "Master Harold," Hally positions himself as the authority, and Sam as the inferior. 

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Willie Character Timeline in "Master Harold" … and the Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Willie appears in "Master Harold" … and the Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
"Master Harold" … and the Boys
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...George’s Park Tea Room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where the black servants Sam and Willie work. Because they have the place to themselves, Willie sings as he cleans the floor... (full context)
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam and Willie discuss movie star dancers and romance as a metaphor for dance. Willie says he doesn’t... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
In an effort to help Willie with his practice, Sam gives a demonstration of the quickstep. He is a great dancer.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...geography he was able to get from Hally when Hally had come to his and Willie’s servants’ quarters at the back of the Jubilee Boarding House Hally’s mother used to run.... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Hally spent so much time with Sam and Willie there that he recalls having walked in on Sam with a girl by accident. Hally... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
...keep his father in the hospital. When he finishes the conversation, he tells Sam and Willie to do the windows when they’re done with the floor. He says his father can... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Hally tells Sam and Willie they heard right, his father is coming home. His mother won’t be able to convince... (full context)
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam waltzes over to Willie and Willie practices the same steps. Sam says that maybe Hilda will come back that... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam sings a song about Willie dancing with his pillow, and, losing his temper, Willie charges at Sam. Hally yells at... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam pretends to announce the final couples, including Willie, and Willie calls for music from the jukebox to create the atmosphere. Sam says he... (full context)
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Hally asks if there are any penalties for stumbling or doing something wrong. Sam and Willie laugh. Sam explains that the finalist’s dance is a kind of ideal world, “a world... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
...stop telling him what to do and to start calling him Master Harold, just as Willie does. (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
...him Master Harold. Sam warns Master Harold that he has hurt only himself. He asks Willie if he should hit Hally, and Willie tells him not to because it won’t help... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...to fly it and Sam couldn’t sit there. Hally packs up his things and asks Willie to lock up for him. (full context)
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Willie tries to comfort Sam and tells him that he’s thought about what Sam said and... (full context)