St. George's Park Tea Room in Port Elizabeth South Africa, 1950
Well, that was easy.
Not so fast, Shmoopsters. Let's dig a little deeper.
The Tea Room is Hally's mom's business, and the relationships between Hally, Willie, and Sam, all revolve around their connections to her. Willie and Sam are her employees, and have been since Hally was a young child, when she ran a boarding house. Hally's her son, so he's got the run of the place.
Willie and Sam are comfortable there; they dance around with the chairs and brooms and, when Sam teases him too much, Willie even throws a rag at him across the room. Hally, too, feels comfortable, but more as the master of the domain:
(WILLIE lets fly with his slop rag. It misses SAM and hits HALLY)
HALLY. (Furious) For Christ's sake, Willie! What the hell do you think you're doing!
WILLIE. Sorry, Master Hally, but it's him….
HALLY. Act your bloody age! (Hurls the rag back at WILLIE) (309-315)
It's Willie's tool of the trade, his rag, that he uses as a weapon and that's quickly turned into a weapon against him. Even in their everyday lives, the setting always has a potential for violence.
Apartheid was South Africa's official policy of racial separation. From 1948 to 1991, black and white South Africans were legally kept separate in virtually every aspect of their lives. "Master Harold" … and the boys takes place just two years after the official laws come into effect, but the play premiered in 1982. It's a look back at how things were about thirty years before, when the guys in charge were just about Hally's age.
For more information about what life in this system was like, check out this 1957 BBC report on South African apartheid: and this one from 1985 for a contemporary viewpoint.