Study Guide

Harvey

by Mary Chase

Harvey Summary

Summary

Act I Summary

Act I
Harvey is a play about forty-seven-year-old Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is an invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey. Dowd and his rabbit friend are well-known and liked in the taverns around town, but his relatives, who have come to live with him, are embarrassed by his behavior and try to have him committed to an insane asylum. The first scene opens with Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons, and her daughter, Myrtle Mae, throwing a luncheon for the older society matrons of the town. They count on Dowd being out, but he comes home suddenly, talking to Harvey and holding doors for him, and, worse, introducing him to the ladies at the party. As the party clears out, Veta swears that he will not disgrace the family again, and she asks him to wait in the den, which he does happily, while she goes to make arrangements for him to be committed.

Scene II takes place at the mental institution, Chumley’s Rest. Nurse Ruth Kelly, who is young and good-looking, interviews Veta about her brother, who is waiting outside in the taxi cab. When Elwood comes in, Kelly has an orderly take him upstairs. When the psychiatrist on duty, Dr. Sanderson, interviews Veta, he gets the impression that she is the one who has hallucinated Harvey (she admits to having seen him sometimes), and so he has her locked up. When he finds out that Elwood Dowd has been locked up, he assumes that a mistake has been made, and Dowd is brought down to the office,...

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Act II and III Summary

Act II
Scene I of Act II takes place in the library of the Dowd house. Myrtle is having the house appraised, planning to sell it as soon as Dowd is committed. Judge Gaffney has come to the house because he received a call from Veta, who was frantic. Veta arrives, distraught, telling of being handled roughly at the sanitarium when they tried to commit her, accusing the people who run the place of having unnatural interest in sex, and instructing the judge to sue them. Wilson and Dr. Chumley arrive from the sanitarium, looking for Dowd, with a list of bars and firehouses that they have been to in their search. When Judge Gaffney and Dr. Chumley leave together, discussing Veta’s impending lawsuit, Wilson and Myrtle flirt. They go off to the kitchen together, and Dowd comes in. He sees a flat parcel that Myrtle brought out of the garage to show Judge Gaffney, as evidence of David’s madness: a painting of himself and a large rabbit, in a polka-dot collar and red necktie. Putting the picture on the mantle, in front of his mother’s portrait, he leaves. Veta and Dr. Chumley enter, and he asks about the portrait over the fireplace and she, not looking, answers as if his questions were about her mother’s picture. Dowd phones, looking for Harvey, but while he is on the phone he says that Harvey just stepped in the door, so Veta determines that he is at a bar called Charlie’s.

Scene II of Act II takes place at the sanitarium again. Dr. Sanderson, having been fired for falsely committing Veta, is packing his belongings. He and Nurse Kelly discuss having seen each other out on dates the previous Saturday, indicating that they are jealous, although neither is willing to openly declare affection. Dowd enters and gives Kelly a bunch of flowers—Dr. Chumley’s prize dahlias. He is under the impression that Kelly and Dr. Sanderson are going to join him for a drink at a bar, and when Wilson enters, Dowd invites him, too. He tells them that he was out at the bar with Dr. Chumley earlier, that after a few drinks the doctor saw Harvey also. Near the end of this scene, Nurse Kelly asks Dowd about his life, and he explains in a long speech how he and Harvey make the acquaintance of strangers when they sit in bars:

Soon the faces of the...

(The entire section is 932 words.)