Study Guide

Master Harold... and the boys Home and Family

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Home and Family

HALLY. The old Jubilee Boarding House. Sixteen rooms with board and lodging, rent in advance and one week's notice. I haven't thought about it for donkey's years….and I don't think that's an accident. God, was I glad when we sold it and moved out. Those years are not remembered as the happiest ones of an unhappy childhood. (674-680)

Donkey's years? What the heck? That's rhyming slang for a long, long time, apparently because donkeys live for a long, long time. Who knew? The point is that Hally hasn't thought about his childhood home for a long, long time, because he hated it there. Sad.

HALLY. [. . .] 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 wherever you went. (699-702)

"In there with you chaps" refers to Sam and Willie's room. The servants' quarters, where the two men lived, was a refuge for little Hally, who could escape from the household with them. The strong language he uses--"that dump" and "bloody misery"—isn't exactly what you'd associate with the ideal family home.

HALLY. [. . .] No joking, if it wasn't for your room, I would have been the first certified ten-year-old in medical history. (710-711)

"Certified," in this particular case, is not a positive adjective. Hally isn't talking about a certificate of completion, participation, or cuteness. In this case, he's referring to the idea that a person could be certified as mentally ill and locked away. Hally's family is looking worse by the minute.

HALLY. [. . .] I bet you I could still find my way to your room with my eyes closed. (He does exactly that) Down the corridor…telephone on the right, which my Mom keeps locked because somebody is using it on the sly and not paying…[. . .] around the corner into the backyard, hold my breath again because there are more smells coming when I pass your lavatory, then into that little passageway, first door on the right and into your room. How's that? (715-724)

Hally demonstrates the power of memory in this little exercise. His childhood home is buried back in the past, but he remembers the sights and smells of the old Jubilee Boarding House. But notice all the drama that floods his memory – thievery, nasty smells – Hally really, really hated it there.

HALLY. [. . .] Our days in the old Jubilee. Sad in a way that they're over. I almost wish we were still in that little room.

SAM. We're still together. (940-943)

Sam's living in the present, but Hally's stuck in the past. Just after all of his complaining about how awful his childhood home was, he suddenly gets nostalgic for it. He can't appreciate what he has, which is a relationship with Sam, because he's always looking backward or forward. Sam knows that "home" isn't a place. It's people.

HALLY. [. . .] Don't misunderstand me chaps. All I want is for him to get better. And if he was, I'd be the first person to say: "Bring him home." But he's not, and we can't give him the medical care and attention he needs at home. That's what hospitals are there for. (989-994)

Do you buy what Hally's saying?

SAM. I suppose it gets lonely for him in there.

HALLY. With all the patients and nurses around? Regular visits from the Salvation Army? Balls! It's ten times worse for him at home. I'm at school and my mother is here in the business all day.

SAM. He's at least got you at night. (1015-1020)

Hally seems cut off from all the intimate relationships that make up a home; he doesn't value the connections he has with the people he lives with. Sam's trying here to get him to have some empathy for his father despite his father's problems.

HALLY. (To the telephone) [. . .] (Loudly) I said I hope you know what you've let us in for! It's the end of the peace and quiet we've been having. (1459-1470)

"Peace and quiet"—finally something that Hally values. And if his dad coming home means the end of it, we can infer that his dad's presence is the opposite: violent and loud? We're slowly getting insight into what Hally's life is like with his father.

HALLY. [. . .] Yes, you do. I get it from you on one side and from him on the other, and it makes life hell for me. I'm not going to be the peacemaker anymore. I'm warning you now: when the two of you start fighting again, I'm leaving home….Mom, if you start crying, I'm going to put down the receiver…. (1492-1497)

Hally's threat to leave might sound harsh, but if you can dig past the angry words you can see that he himself is hurt. His whole childhood has been spent in the middle of his parents' arguments. He'd rather leave home than be there anymore.

HALLY. [. . .] Hurry up now and finish your work. I want to lock up and get out of here. (Pause) And then go where? Home-sweet-f***ing-home. Jesus, I hate that word. (1563-1566)

Well, somebody grab the Lifebuoy because Hally needs his mouth washed out. You'll have to excuse his French while we zero in on the, ahem, strongly-worded assessment of his home life. He's desperate because his home, the place where he should feel safe, is a place that he fears.

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