"Master Harold" … and the Boys

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The Kite Symbol Icon
At its most basic, the kite that Sam fashions for Hally is a symbol of the human capacity to rise up and to rise above. The kite’s potential for flight is like our potential to transcend both our personal limitations and the broader, more systemic limitations imposed on us by our society and culture. As such, it also represents a kind of joyful freedom. When Sam first presents Hally with the kite, Hally is embarrassed at the idea of flying a kite with a black man, but, when the kite begins to fly, his embarrassment melts away and is replaced by pure elation. Hally’s joy at the prospect of flight blinds him to the fact that Sam is societally excluded from sharing it. Yet, as is later revealed, Hally unknowingly flies the kite from a “whites only” bench. There is an implicit challenge that the story of the kite offers in “Master Harold” and the boys: the plays asks us to keep our eyes open enough to see beyond our own joys or sorrows and register when others are abused, maligned, and oppressed. The kind of carefree joy Hally experiences flying Sam’s kite should be possible for us each and all.

The Kite Quotes in "Master Harold" … and the Boys

The "Master Harold" … and the Boys quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Kite. 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

The sheer audacity of it took my breath away. I mean, seriously, what the hell does a black man know about flying a kite?...If you think I was excited and happy, you got another guess coming… When we left the boarding house to go up onto the hill, I was praying quietly that there wouldn’t be any other kids around to laugh at us.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Related Symbols: The Kite
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Hally has asked Sam to guess his "best memory," before telling him that the memory began one afternoon when Hally was bored and went to Sam's room, where he found Sam constructing something out of wood. In this part of the speech, Hally describes his shock at discovering Sam was making a kite, and his fear that the kite wouldn't fly and that other kids would laugh at them. Although he is telling the story to please and entertain Sam, he interweaves explicit racism into his account ("what the hell does a black man know about flying a kite?"). Clearly, it does not even occur to Hally to consider how this comment would make Sam feel. 

Hally's description of the memory also reveals the bizarre logic of the racism that defines the world around him. The idea that Sam's race would make him unable to make a kite is completely nonsensical, and Hally's use of the word "audacity" shows how restrictive and narrow the expectations placed on black South Africans were. At the same time, the story also highlights the way in which racism has even indirectly harmed Hally himself, by making him ashamed of his association with Sam and anxious that other white children will ridicule him. 

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HALLY: You explained how to get it down, we tied it to the bench so that I could sit and watch it and you went away. I wanted you to stay, you know. I was a little scared of having to look after it by myself.
SAM: (Quietly) I had work to do, Hally

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Kite
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Hally has recounted that, despite his low expectations, the kite Sam made flew brilliantly and that it was "the most splendid thing" he had ever seen. He recalls that Sam walked away and explains that he had wanted him to stay, but Sam quietly responds that he had work to do. This is an emotionally climactic moment within the play, exemplifying the complex tensions and pressures caused by the powerful racist forces that dominate South African society. While Sam claims that he left Hally with the kite because he had work to do, in reality it was because he realized they were on a whites-only bench, and thus it was illegal for Sam to be there.

Hally's ignorance of the true reason why Sam left highlights how sheltered he is from the reality of the racist nation he lives in. Importantly, Sam's lie about having work to do proves that he is also forced to be complicit in keeping Hally in this ignorant, sheltered state. There are several possible explanations for why Sam does not tell Hally the truth. One reason could be that it would be considered improper for Sam to discuss racist laws in front of Hally; by not mentioning it, Sam acts in a manner akin to the effortless way of dancing he encourages Willie to adopt. On the other hand, it is also plausible that Sam feels protective of Hally, and wants to preserve his childhood innocence even if this means misleading him about the true nature of the society in which they live. 

Would have been just as strange I suppose, if it had been me and my Dad… a cripple man and a little boy! Nope! There’s no chance of me flying a kite without it being strange.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Kite
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Hally has finished telling the story about the kite, reflecting that the image of him and Sam flying it together is "strange." Sam has asked if it's strange because he is black and Hally is white; Hally responds that he doesn't know, but that it would have been just as strange to have flown it with his own father because he is a cripple. This passage is likely to elicit further sympathy for Hally; despite the rather thoughtless and offensive way in which discusses both Sam and his father, it is clear that he feels sad and ashamed about not having a "normal" family. 

Indeed, Hally's shame highlights an unexpected connection between his cruel, racist father and the much kinder, more fatherly Sam. Although as a white man Hally's father occupies the most privileged social position in South African society, he is nonetheless still stigmatized for his physical disability. Although this is not the same as the racism Sam experiences as a black man, the parallel nonetheless highlights the complexity of prejudice, and emphasizes the fact that everyone––including Sam, Hally, and Hally's father––is affected by the forces of stigma, discrimination, and shame. 

If you ever do write it as a short story, there was a twist in our ending. I couldn’t sit down there and stay with you. It was a “Whites Only” bench. You were too young, too excited to notice then. But not anymore. If you’re not careful… Master Harold… you’re going to be sitting up there by yourself for a long time to come, and there won’t be a kite in the sky.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Hally
Related Symbols: The Kite
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Sam has returned to the story of the kite, recalling that the episode happened a few days after Hally's father had drunkenly passed out and soiled himself in the Central Hotel Bar, and that Hally had been severely depressed afterwards. He then reveals that the true reason why he left Hally alone on the bench while they were flying the kite was because it was a whites-only bench, and he warns Hally that if he continues with his current behavior he may find himself sitting alone on the bench "for a long time to come." This speech emphasizes the dramatic change in Sam and Hally's relationship. Sam no longer feels compelled to protect Hally's innocence, and instead forces Hally to confront the reality of the racist world in which they live. 

This moment is a powerful example of education. Although Sam has had little formal schooling and thus theoretically is less knowledgable than Hally, the story of the kite reveals how naïve and ignorant Hally really is. Sam, on the other hand, understands the true nature of the world and has carefully controlled the way in which he reveals this nature to Hally. Up until this point, Sam's patience with Hally can be interpreted as a loving, protective gesture, designed to preserve Hally's childish innocence. However, Sam's words of warning point to the danger of remaining in this "innocent" state in the midst of a deeply unjust world. Although as a white person Hally benefits from structural racism, Sam reminds him that harboring racist views is itself harmful because it prevents connection to other people. 

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The Kite Symbol Timeline in "Master Harold" … and the Boys

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Kite 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
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
...recall coming into Sam’s room and finding Sam in the process of making him a kite. Sam took him to fly it on a hill, he remembers, and Hally was afraid... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...told him to run and remembers how his embarrassment and anxiety melted away when the kite took off flying. He describes it as “the most splendid thing he had ever seen”... (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
Hally says that a black man and white boy flying a kite is strange. Sam asks him why, and Hally counters that it would have been just... (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
...that he is a failure. Sam then reveals the rest of the story about the kite: how Hally’s father got drunk, passed out, and soiled himself on the floor of the... (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
After the incident, Sam says, Hally was dejected for days. Sam made the kite to try and cheer Hally up, and the reason he left Hally on his own... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...a man if he doesn’t behave like one himself. He says they should fly another kite on another day, and that they should both be mindful of all the teaching that... (full context)