Hally's a 17-year-old white boy who goes to school, draws ugly pictures of his teachers, and complains about his homework. Sam, on the other hand, is a 40-something black man who learns everything he can from Hally's schoolbooks when he comes home in the afternoons. He's constantly learning.
The fact that Hally has the opportunity to attend school at all is because he's white. Access to education was one of the many basic freedoms that was denied to black South Africans under apartheid. Any education they were granted was aimed only at improving their skills as laborers. The South African Minister of Native Affairs put it this way: There is no space for him [the "Native"] in the European Community above certain forms of labor. For this reason it is of no avail for him to receive training which has its aim in the absorption of the European Community, where he cannot be absorbed. Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his community and misled him by showing him the greener pastures of European Society where he is not allowed to graze. (Source)
Oh, now we get it: the law was really doing the black man a favor. Right.
This injustice is a really painful part of the play, as we see Sam's intelligence and eagerness to learn. It puts him in the position of a child who has to depend on Hally to learn anything. As readers, though, we see who is really teaching whom.
Questions About Education
- Who's the student and who's the teacher when it comes to Hally and Sam's after-school homework sessions?
- What does Sam say is the reason for Hally's good grades? What do you think about that?
- Why does Sam have a hard time pronouncing words, and why does he need Hally's textbooks to study?
- What does Sam hope to teach Hally, and why does he say he's failed?
Chew on This
The real education in the play is about the injustice of the apartheid system.
Hally really learns by teaching Sam, not by going to school.