Study Guide

Willie in Master Harold... and the boys

By Athol Fugard

Willie

While Sam and Hally are more three-dimensional characters, Willie Malopo is more in the background. Fugard refers to him as a "mildly comic figure," (35) about the same age as Sam. He's been working with Sam for many years, first at the boarding house and now at the tearoom, and he seems to look up to him. He calls him "Boet Sam" (Brother Sam) and looks for him for guidance about dancing and women. He's also been Hally's friend for all Hally's life. He's poor; he doesn't even have enough money for a song on the jukebox. Unlike Sam, he doesn't seem to have much restraint—he beats his girlfriends and then they quit dancing with him. He even blames them for getting beaten:

She makes me the hell-in too much. (135)

Classic.

It seems like one of Willie's roles in the play is to show what happens when someone doesn't take advantage of learning opportunities like Sam does. His speech isn't as sophisticated as Sam's, and he takes no part in the intellectual and philosophical games that Hally and Sam play. His mind's on the dance contest. He's not as curious a guy as Sam.

Unlike Sam, Willie calls Hally Master Harold. He doesn't exhibit the kind of quiet pride we see in his friend. When he accidentally hits Hally with his rag, Hally screams at him and Willie answers, "Sorry, Master Hally, but it's him…" (313). The title of "Master," the apology, and finally blaming Sam all seem like the responses of an immature man.

In the end, though, Willie surprises us. He's watched the final showdown between Sam and Hally silently. But when Sam asks, "Should I hit him, Willie?" (74) it's Willie who steps in to defuse the situation. He tells Sam not to hit Hally.

SAM. And if he had done it to you, Willie?

WILLIE. Me? Spit at me like I was a dog? (A thought that had not occurred to him before. He looks at HALLY) Ja, then I want to hit him. I want to hit him hard! […] But maybe all I do is go cry at the back. He's little boy, Boet Sam. Little white boy. Long trousers now, but he's still a little boy. (1780-1788)

Willie shows us a few things here. First, he understands how Sam feels and offers his friend support in his anger. He helps Sam calm down and see the bigger picture. Second, we see that Willie's not the simple and compliant black man he sometimes seems to be. He recognizes that Hally said what he said while he was feeling like a hurt little boy. Then the kicker—a little white boy. Considering what's just happened, that was a risky and brave thing to say, and he took that risk to support Sam.

He comforts Sam in the best way he knows how: he promises to follow Sam's advice about not beating up his girlfriends, and vows to practice dancing non-stop until the contest. He draws Sam back into the idealized world of the dance. In a really sweet moment, he uses his last bit of change—his bus money—to play a song on the jukebox to cheer Sam up.

WILLIE. To hell with it! I walk home. […] How did you say it, Boet Sam? Let's dream. (WILLIE sways to the music and gestures for SAM to dance) (48).

We'd guess that Willie rises to the occasion because of what he's just seen Sam say and do. He's witnessed something pretty powerful: a black man, utterly humiliated and betrayed but acting proudly and honestly. It brings out the best in him, too.

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