"Master Harold" … and the Boys

Sam Character Analysis

Sam is a middle aged black man. A talented dancer, he has pieced together an incomplete education from his time spent talking through his homework and through his own careful observation of the world. He is something of an accidental philosopher and a teacher. Not only does he try to impart, incrementally, his wisdom to Hally, he also spends his free moments coaching his coworker through dance steps. He is compassionate and kind, and compassion and kindness are the main subjects of his lessons.

Sam Quotes in "Master Harold" … and the Boys

The "Master Harold" … and the Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Sam or refer to Sam. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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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:

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They make you lie down on a bench. One policeman pulls down your trousers and holds your ankles, another one pulls your shirt over your head and holds your arms… and the one that gives you the strokes talks to you gently and for a long time between each one.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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I’ve heard enough, Sam! Jesus! It’s a bloody awful world when you come to think of it. People can be real bastards.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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I know, I know! I oscillate between hope and despair for this world as well, Sam. But things will change, you wait and see. One day somebody is going to get up and give history a kick up the backside and get it going again.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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“...Napoleon regarded all people as equal before the law and wanted them to have equal opportunities for advancement. All ves-ti-ges of the feu-dal system with its oppression of the poor were abolished.” Vestiges, feudal system and abolished. I’m all right on oppression.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tried [referring to reading The Origin of the Species]. I looked at the chapters in the beginning and I saw one called “The Struggle for an Existence.” Ah ha, I thought. At last! But what did I get? Something called the mistiltoe which needs the apple tree and there’s too many seeds and all are going to die except one…! No, Hally.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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Don’t get sentimental, Sam. You’ve never been a slave, you know. And anyway we freed your ancestors here in South Africa long before the Americans. But if you want to thank somebody on their behalf, do it to Mr. William Wilberforce. Come on. Try again. I want a real genius.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

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…I got another rowing for hanging around the “servants’ quarters.” I think I spent more time in there with you chaps than anywhere else in that dump. And do you blame me? Nothing but bloody misery everywhere you went.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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Don’t try to be clever, Sam. It doesn’t suit you. Anybody who thinks there’s nothing wrong with this world need to have his head examined... If there is a God who created this world, he should scrap it and try again.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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There’s no collisions out there, Hally. Nobody trips or stumbles or bumps into anybody else. That’s what that moment is all about. To be one of those finalists on the dance floor is like… like being in a dream about a world in which accidents don’t happen.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Hally
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

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It’s beautiful because that is what we want life to be like. But instead… we’re bumping into each other all the time. Look at the three of us this afternoon… Open a newspaper and what do you read? America has bumped into Russia, England is bumping into India, rich man bumps into poor man… People get hurt in all that bumping, and we’re sick and tired of it now.

Related Characters: Sam (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ballroom Dance
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

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HALLY: He’s a white man and that’s good enough for you.
SAM: I’ll try to forget you said that.

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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HALLY: I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.
SAM: You sure of that, Hally? Because it would be pretty hopeless if that was true. It would mean nothing has been learnt in here this afternoon, and there was a hell of a lot of teaching going on…

Related Characters: Hally (speaker), Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

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

The timeline below shows where the character Sam 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
...the St. 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... (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... (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. Hally, the owner’s son... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Hally is unhappy at the news, and because Sam only overheard his mother talking on the phone, he argues that Sam must be mistaken.... (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
Hally starts to do his school work at the table and Sam grabs a mathematics book of Hally’s. He laughs at a caricature Hally has drawn of... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
...day be changed for the better thanks to the help of yet unknown social reformers. Sam reads from Hally’s mathematics textbook and asks for the definition of “magnitude,” which Hally defines... (full context)
Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Now Sam takes the history textbook from Hally’s school case. He turns at random to some lines... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam asks Hally whom he would choose as a man of magnitude, and Hally says Charles... (full context)
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Cripples and Broken Things Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam suggests William Shakespeare, but Hally says Sam’s only read the play Julius Caesar and that... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Ignorance vs. Learning, Education, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Dance and Dream Theme Icon
Sam recalls his first lesson, a lesson in geography he was able to get from Hally... (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... (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 tells Sam to guess his favorite memory, and goes on to recall coming into Sam’s room and... (full context)
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Abuse, Oppression, and Inequality Theme Icon
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Next, Hally tells how Sam told him to run and remembers how his embarrassment and anxiety melted away when the... (full context)
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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 as strange to... (full context)
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Hally’s mother phones from the hospital. Sam answers and gives the phone to Hally. When he learns she is bringing his father... (full context)
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Hally tells Sam and Willie they heard right, his father is coming home. His mother won’t be able... (full context)
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Sam asks Hally about his homework. The assignment is to “Write five hundred words describing an... (full context)
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Sam waltzes over to Willie and Willie practices the same steps. Sam says that maybe Hilda... (full context)
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Sam sings a song about Willie dancing with his pillow, and, losing his temper, Willie charges... (full context)
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Sam says dancing is a harmless pleasure, and Hally says it’s a simple-minded pleasure that doesn’t... (full context)
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...is “the giving of meaning to matter” or “the giving of form to the formless.” Sam, deferential, says that maybe it’s not art, but it’s still beautiful. He says if Hally... (full context)
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Sam begins to describe the festive atmosphere at the dance hall, the lights, the excitement, the... (full context)
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Sam pretends to announce the final couples, including Willie, and Willie calls for music from the... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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Sam says there are a few people who have got past just dreaming about it and... (full context)
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Hally is disconsolate and silent after hanging up the phone. Sam tries to comfort him, and Hally tells Sam to mind his own business. Sam tries... (full context)
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Sam tells Hally to be careful of the things he’s saying, warning him not to speak... (full context)
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Hally tells Sam that his father’s being a white man should be enough for him, and Sam says... (full context)
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Hally says his father will be glad to hear about the lesson he has given Sam in respect, and tells one of his father’s jokes: “It’s not fair is it, Hally?... (full context)
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Hally spits in Sam’s face and Sam starts calling him Master Harold. Sam warns Master Harold that he has... (full context)
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Sam tells Hally that Hally doesn’t know what he’s done. Hally has made him, Sam says,... (full context)
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After the incident, Sam says, Hally was dejected for days. Sam made the kite to try and cheer Hally... (full context)
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Sam asks Hally to wait. He says he has no business telling Hally how to be... (full context)