Herzen is a very different man in Salvage than he was in the previous plays. He is older, sometimes wiser, but often blinded by his own stubbornness. Many of the characters in the play characterize him as old-fashioned or out of touch. This is most directly evoked in his ugly confrontation with Sleptsov, who forces Herzen to confront the fact that his own convictions, however strongly held, are not necessarily those of the generations behind him. Bakunin, who returns from exile, similarly chastises Herzen for not changing with the times. Compounding and supporting this intractability is Herzen’s tendency to live in the past. Throughout Salvage, Herzen repeatedly nods off and dreams of people who are absent or of alternate versions of his friends and family. The melancholy Herzen is haunted by his past and, as a result, he is unable to free himself from it.
Natasha proves to be a romantic stand-in for Natalie, who dies at the end of Shipwreck. Although she begins the play much stronger than Natalie, the complications of her simultaneous relationships with her husband, Ogarev, and Herzen drive her to increasingly erratic behavior. She parents both her own children with Herzen and Natalie’s. The foil to her emotional nature is the all-business Malwida, who clearly harbors feelings for Herzen as well. Malwida embodies structure, discipline and lack of tolerance for unnecessary emotional displays. Natalie and Malwida, while representing different maternal ideals, both clearly love the children. Throughout Salvage, they parent Herzen’s children in a way that he is too aloof and out-of-touch to do.
In Ogarev, Stoppard makes his most Chekhovian overtures. The ill Ogarev cedes his own wife to his best friend with little protest, while taking up with the prostitute Mary. He is clearly unhappy throughout, yet remains unable (or unwilling) to alter his circumstances. He loves and is loved by both Natasha and Herzen, but enables both of them in self-destructive (or at least non-progressive) behavior.
Bakunin, who appears in only a few scenes in Salvage, is a markedly different character than he was in the previous plays. If Voyage depicts him as a brilliant but insolent snot and Shipwreck shows him to be something of a nihilist, then Salvage finds yet another dimension to him. Age has not mellowed him, per se, but he does have a sense of humor about his own excess of character. He also shows more respect for his comrades, even when he disagrees with them. Though he is an older man in Salvage, he finally seems to have grown up.