What is the significance of Mildred Tobin to Brad, and to the rest of the family in Jacob's Wake by Michael Cook?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Michael Cook's play Jacob's Wake, Mildred Tobin has a surprising connection to Brad Blackburn. 

Brad is one of Winston and Rosie's sons. At the beginning of the play, he returns home having been fired from his job as a preacher:


I...have been replaced. Thrown out...My ministry is ended...

It is suggested several times in the play that Brad is more than overly zealous: he is crazy. When he compares himself to Christ—saying he, too, has been mistreated, Aunt Mary (who never has a problem expressing herself) takes him to task:

BRAD: [using scripture to refer to himself]

He was despised and rejected of men.


How dare you compare yourself to the Lord. You're sick, Brad. Sick. You need help.

Brad has been fired for several reasons, according to stories his brothers have heard: one has to do with a fire he set to shut down a bar in the town he was serving.


I heard ye burnt out Joel Miller.


Miller tried to corrupt my congregation. He was...an agent of the Devil.


...he ran a bar. That's all...Even Noah was allowed moonshine on the ark.

Accused of arson, Brad has been sent packing. He walks around the house sharing words of doom and censorship, hardly endearing himself to his family, who struggle to simply tolerate him—even without his preaching. Waking from a dream, he announces:

Damned. We are all damned.

When Alonzo asks what the devil is like, Brad responds:

He's like you, Alonzo. You.

For all his preaching to the family about their souls—even to the dying Skipper who orders him out of his room for his dire warnings about the fate of the old man's soul—we find that Brad is the worst of hypocrites. He worries about the sins of others, without taking responsibility for his own.

Mildred Tobin was a young woman of their sea town who found herself pregnant and unmarried. An hour after she gave birth to her baby, her father threw her out of the house in a winter storm like the one surrounding them now. It was not until the spring thaw that she was found outside of the Blackburn family's house, hidden under a boat packed up for the winter. She had crawled underneath to find refuge from the storm, and froze to death with her baby boy.

Rumors had circled for a time that Winston was the father, but the audience learns that clearly Brad had slept with Mildred—and it is inferred that he may well have fathered her child. (It would be a safe assumption in that she died outside Brad's house.) Alonzo recalls that it was because he had had sex with Mildred that Brad found God. It was not a religious calling to serve—

I remember God help me...Mildred Tobin...[You were] slobbering and crying on me shoulder, shouting out how ye was damned...She poor bitch, led ye to God, or whatever crazy thing it is ye've got in yer head.

While Alonzo knows the truth, Rosie and Mary do not. In a discussion about Mildred with Mary, Rosie points out the social hypocrisy that held the unfortunate woman to blame, while the men responsible were never exposed and/or ostracized in any way—how ironic that Brad was one of these men:

...God knows the fellers she done it wit' is alive and well enough to sing the Lord's praise on the Sabbath and nobody minds dat.

Sadly, Brad was not only singing God's praises, but he was also a member of the clergy. It would seem he was not in the best place to judge his family for their sin, or to have charge over the souls of a congregation.

Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mildred's significance to Brad is that he and she had an experimental sexual experience when in high school. Their experience left Mildred pregnant for which her father rejected her and cast her out of the house. alone, Scared and disgraced, Mildred took her own life. During the course of the play, Brad, now married to Mary, is overwhelmed by his guilt over Mildred's death and walks out into the mounting storm to loose his own life. This turbulent family is effected according to their various relationships with Brad.