Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288
The Adding Machine (1923) is a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Elmer Rice. It is a modern drama that tells of the trial, execution, and afterlife of a man called Mr. Zero.
Mr. Zero is a thin, older man who discovers his 25-year career as an accountant is coming to an end, because he is being replaced by an adding machine. In rage, he murders his boss.
Mrs. Zero is his wife, and she is described as an unkempt woman who constantly gossips and complains. She criticizes her husband for being lackluster.
Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore is Mr. Zero's assistant bookkeeper who wears green eyeshadow and paper sleeve protectors. She is a very unhappy woman who has feelings for Mr. Zero, and after his execution, she commits suicide. In the afterlife, they have a brief romantic affair.
The Boss is the strict manager who Mr. Zero kills.
Mr. and Mrs. Six are friends who attend a party at the Zeroes' apartment. They are prejudiced people who dislike feminists, foreigners, Jews, Catholics, and minorities. They are on the jury that convicts Mr. Zero.
The Guide is a man who leads tourists past Mr. Zero's cell, using him as an example of a murderer and selling photos of him.
The Fixer is a pseudo-angelic character whom Mr. Zero asks to prevent his execution, but he refuses and claims Mr. Zero's life has been worthless.
Shrdlu is a ghost who wears glasses and smokes a cigarette. He harbors guilt over killing his mother.
Lieutenant Charles is an immortal who works in the place where the souls of the dead are prepared for reincarnation. While preparing Mr. Zero to be sent back to the living world, he tells him about his past lives.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708
Mr. Zero, a small, thin, sallow, and partially bald man in his late forties or early fifties. For twenty-five years, he has worked as a bookkeeper in a large department store, where he adds up the day’s receipts after arranging sales figures in columns. For his dedicated work, he expects a raise, not having received one in seven years, but instead he learns that he is to be replaced by an adding machine. His mind is preoccupied with figures, and he reveals all the prejudices of the lower middle class, though by temperament he is stolid and subdued. He is a henpecked husband, and his marriage leaves much to be desired. For diversion, he peers at a scantily clad prostitute who lives in a nearby apartment until his wife forces him to report her to the police. Following his execution for murdering the Boss, he comes to understand that he has a slave mentality and temperament that he will never escape.
Mrs. Zero, Mr. Zero’s wife for twenty-five years. She is forty-five years old, unkempt, and shapeless, with graying hair. A chronic complainer and gossipy housewife, she amuses herself with Western and romantic films. She nags Zero constantly for his lack of ambition and possesses attitudes of petty bourgeois respectability.
Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore
Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore, a plain, middle-aged woman. She is Zero’s assistant bookkeeper and calls out figures for him to write down. Like Zero, she wears a green eyeshade and paper sleeve protectors while working. Her affection for Zero is masked by her quarrelsome nature. She is chronically unhappy and talks of suicide, an act she carries out after Zero’s execution. In the afterlife, their romance, separated from their work, achieves a brief but futile second chance.
The Boss, a middle-aged, stoutish, bald, well-dressed manager of the department store where Zero works. Dedicated to strict business principles and efficiency, he attempts to inform Zero of his termination.
Mr. Five, and
Mr. Six, friends of the Zeros, about their age, who are guests at an evening party in their apartment. They are dressed like Zero in every detail. They converse about the weather and denounce woman suffrage, foreign agitators, minorities, Catholics, and Jews. They form half the jury that finds Zero guilty.
Mrs. Five, and
Mrs. Six, wives of the male guests of the Zeros. They are all dressed alike except that each has a dress of a different color. They talk of films, gossip about a recent divorce, complain about men, and explore the illnesses of their acquaintances. They form half the jury that convicts Zero.
Guide, a man in a peaked cap and blue uniform who leads curious tourists past Zero’s prison cell, delivering a lecture on him as an example of a North American murderer, explaining his pending execution, and selling photograph folders portraying his criminal life to the tourists.
The Fixer, an allegorical figure with wings suggesting an angel, but one who clips his fingernails, reads comics, and smokes a pipe. Zero expects him to prevent his execution, but the Fixer declines, pointing out that Zero’s life has been worthless.
Shrdlu, an apparition from the grave, shabbily dressed, wearing silver-rimmed spectacles, and smoking a cigarette. Despondent over his unmotivated murder of his mother while the minister Dr. Amarath was present at Sunday dinner, he bears a greater burden of guilt than Zero. He relives the episode and confesses his crime to Zero. He has come to accept Dr. Amarath’s fatalistic pronouncement that he has a criminal nature.
Lieutenant Charles, a middle-aged man, somewhat corpulent, barefooted, dressed in red tights, and wearing a Panama hat. He conveys an air of world-weariness, pessimism, and nonchalance. An immortal, he functions in the place where souls are prepared for reincarnation and is charged with dispatching Zero back to earth, where he will operate an incredibly advanced adding machine. He reveals information about Zero’s previous incarnations.
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