Arsenic and Old Lace Characters

Characters

Abby Brewster
Abby and her sister Martha have interchangeable personalities in the play. Neither exhibits distinctinct characteristics that are identifiable as separate from the other. Abby, like her sister Martha, is oldfashioned in an ironic sense. She appears to be a quite conservative elderly woman who values the conventions of the past. She attends church regularly and donates toys to the local Christian fund.

Her traditional values, however, do not extend to her treatment of the elderly men who come to their home looking for lodging. While her desire to help the men find peace is aligned with their Christian faith, her and her sister’s methods reflect modern, violent sensibilities as they resort to murder to achieve their goal. Abby is the one who gives the poisoned wine to the first of their murder victims.

Jonathan Brewster
Jonathan is a vicious criminal with a penchant for torture. Not much background information is given on him other than the details provided by Mortimer that he was ‘‘the kind of boy who liked to cut worms in two—with his teeth.’’ He has no consideration for his aunts as he plots to turn their home into a surgery for criminals who need to alter their appearance. When Mortimer threatens to interfere, he plans on causing a slow, painful death for his brother. His pettiness surfaces when he becomes jealous that his aunts have committed more murders than he has.

Martha Brewster
Martha is as ironically old fashioned as her sister. She exhibits kindness and compassion with the neighbors and follows social conventions of behavior. For example, when Mortimer breaks tradition and asks Elaine to meet him at the Brewster’s instead of calling for her at her home, she criticizes him for his lack of chivalry. She also condemns the theater for its provocative subject matter and popular films that frighten their audiences.

Like Abby, Martha’s charity is limited by the macabre nature of the murders they commit and by their own prejudices. Abby would rather ignore the devastation of the war in Europe because it is beyond their scope. When Jonathan arrives, Martha, with Abby’s help, does everything in her power to get rid of him from the moment he walks in the door, insisting that he is too much trouble. The two also have no time for foreigners, refusing to let Jonathan bury one in their...

(The entire section is 979 words.)