Good and Evil
With the exception of Mrs. Tilford, it is a simple task to place the principal characters in The Children's Hour in the debit and credit columns of a moral balance sheet. The good, decent characters are Karen Wright, Martha Dobie, and Dr. Joe Cardin. The bad are Mary Tilford and Lily Mortar, who, though not in Mary's demonic league, is a vain and selfish parasite who cares only for her own welfare.
Mary is the more perplexing character because her viciousness seems to spring from some inner ugliness that can not be explained away by her class privilege or her grandmother's indulgence. As Karen remarks in the first act, she and Martha always talk of Mary as if the girl were an adult, as if she had never been blessed with childhood innocence. She is a pathological liar and manipulator, capable of any strategy that will satisfy her malicious desire to control everyone with whom she comes in contact. She cows the other girls through intimidation, inspiring neither love nor respect, and when her influence over her classmates is threatened by Martha and Karen, she sets out to destroy them without a hint of remorse. Her feelings seem limited to fear and anxiety, in evidence only when she is threatened with exposure. Measured against her, Lily Mortar seems more oblivious than wicked or cruel.
Mary is the font of evil in the play, but her grandmother, Mrs. Tilford, is the sociopathic child's unwitting conspirator....
(The entire section is 1042 words.)
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