Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379
Quentin, the protagonist, is a lawyer looking back over his past life. He has regrets about his two previous marriages, which both ended in divorce, and also about the relationship between his legal work and the conservative politics of the 1950s. Quentin’s struggles, both to understand the impact of his childhood and with guilt over responsibility for the break-ups, occupies much of the play’s substance. These matters weigh heavily on his ability to move forward into a life with Holga, his new love.
Holga, Quentin’s fiancée, is a European immigrant to the United States. Her personal story includes World War II survivor's guilt, having lost people in concentration camps. As Holga’s composure helps balance Quentin’s moodiness, she also helps him confront and, at least partially, resolve his mixed feelings.
Louise was Quentin’s first wife, and they remained friends after the divorce. Their breakup is revealed in flashback sequences. Attributing Quentin’s unhappiness to egotism and misogyny, Louise rejected her responsibility in their marital problems marriage. Her inability to understand his inner turmoil drove them further apart.
Maggie, Quentin’s second wife, is a beautiful singer whose rise to stardom led to serious emotional problems. His memories of their early years emphasize her sensuous nature and need for support, which he provided as an older man. In turn, her positive energy had infected him, but these proved fleeting sensations. Maggie’s increasing distance from her husband was not compensated by career satisfaction. Her tragic downward spiral, ending in her suicide, is one of the greatest weights on Quentin’s conscience.
Quentin’s mother was the dominant figure of his childhood; she appears in numerous flashbacks. Her story is intertwined with that of Quentin’s father, who went broke in the stock market crash. Her judgmental behavior, especially toward men, affects her son’s relationships with women, especially Louise.
Lou, another attorney, is Quentin’s friend. A radical who continues defending the Soviet Union, Lou destroys his career by testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Quentin’s ambiguous attitude toward defending him is another source of his guilt
Mickey is Quentin’s lawyer friend who has abandoned his radical past and plans to betray his former comrades and friends in his HUAC testimony.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Quentin, a lawyer who agonizes over his past—the failure of his two marriages, unhappy childhood experiences, the political witch-hunts in the 1950’s, and the extent to which he bears personal responsibility for what happened to his close friends and his two wives. Quentin views these past events from the perspective of the present. He has met Holga, with whom he has fallen in love. She is European and brings with her a sense of the European past, including that of World War II, of mass destruction and the concentration camps. Quentin reacts to this grim history in terms of his own life, questioning his motives; his selfishness; his rejection of his first wife, Louise; and his inability to help his tormented second wife, Maggie. Although Quentin is not able to resolve all the conflicts within himself, with Holga’s help he does come to understand better his own implication in the sufferings of others.
Holga, Quentin’s fiancée, who helps him come to terms with his guilt over his previous marriages. Having suffered greatly herself during the war, she has had to deal with the issues of responsibility that Quentin addresses. Her calm, abiding presence throughout the play bespeaks a sensibility that has grown with experience and is able to accept the worst that Quentin can...
(The entire section contains 1030 words.)
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