Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2164
Maddie Rooney is the main character in All That Fall. Maggie is first introduced by the dragging thud of her foot as she walks from her home to the train station. Maddie is obese. She has trouble walking and has to stop frequently to catch her breath. Many of her friends and neighbors offer her the assistance of a ride, and she ends up accepting one of these offers.
Maddie is Irish and lives in the village of Boghill with her husband, Dan. This is a suburban town, with a train station that people use as they commute to work. Maddie is walking to the station to surprise her husband, as today is his birthday.
Maddie is an extravagant, colorful woman with a florid imagination and an overdramatic way of expressing herself. She is smart, well read, and observant, and she can also be quite down to earth and even coarse at times: she asks a neighbor to come behind a hedge and help her take off her corset, and when a friend offers her a ride in his car, his help getting her into the car launches Maddie into a near orgasm.
Maddie’s imagination can make her very emotional, especially on the day this play is set. Today is not only Dan’s birthday—it is also the anniversary of the death, forty years past, of she and Dan’s young daughter, Minnie. Maddie is powerfully mourning Minnie’s death today. She is so overwrought about it that, at one point, when her neighbor’s horse is staring at her for too long, Maddie shouts at him to take the horse away and immediately launches into a lament for her daughter, as though the horse’s eyes were her daughter’s eyes.
What Maddie really wants, more than anything, is love. She expresses much fondness for her husband; even when he treats her badly, she asks him for a hug or a kiss. She misses her daughter acutely. She gives the people she meets a lot of grief and attitude, but she also helps them. Though Mrs. Rooney verbally spars with Miss Fitt, Miss Fitt “as always” agrees to help her walk down the steep staircase at the train station. Though her mood can turn dark in a moment, Maddie is a kind person. As she says,
MRS. ROONEY: Love, that is all I asked, a little love, daily, twice daily, fifty years of twice daily love. . . . A peck on the jaw at morning, near the ear, and another at the evening, peck, peck, till you grow whiskers on you.
Dan Rooney is Maddie’s husband. He is blind and walks with a cane. He has a job in the city and takes the commuter train to his work and back to Bogwell every day. He and Maddie have a house that is about a twenty-minute walk (for them) from the station. They have lived in Bogwell for a long time.
Dan is a cynical and bitter man, off-putting to people in general and even to his own wife at times. When he arrives at the train station, he seems annoyed with Maddie for meeting him. The train has arrived late, and he becomes even more annoyed when she questions him about why it was late. Then she tries to kiss him, and he flies into a rage, reproving her:
MR. ROONEY: Kiss you? In public? On the platform? Before the boy? Have you taken leave of your senses?
Dan describes his daily work life as being “buried alive,” and his life at home is no better, full of...
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“horrors.” He is a miser and constantly calculates how much money they are saving or losing in transactions. Making mathematical calculations seems to delight him, even if he is complaining about life in general. As Maddie is about to help Dan down the steep staircase at the train station, he says,
MR. ROONEY: I have been up and down these steps five thousand times and still I don’t know how many there are. When I think there are six there are four or five or seven or eight and when I remember they are five they are three or four or six or seven and when finally I realize there are seven there are five or six or eight or nine. Do you know I think they change them during the night.
Dan thaws out during the play, but usually he is a brusque, alarming man. He talks about how much children annoy him and even suggests that he has sometimes thought about killing a child just to make it be quiet and stop annoying him. When Maddie asks him what he did during the train’s long stop, he launches into a long tale about how he did pretty much nothing, as he was so preoccupied with his thoughts.
As they walk home, Dan becomes emotional. He cries when he hears a piece of music, Schubert’s "Death and the Maiden," playing from a house near where they live. When Maddie asks him to give her a hug, the long pause and Maddie’s happy sigh a moment later suggest he has done so. When Maddie tells him the title of the sermon at church this Sunday, he and Maddie share a good long laugh. The reader can presume their shared disdain for the hypocrisy of religion.
At the end of the play, a boy who works at the station runs up and returns something that Dan has left behind. It appears to be a ball. Maddie has not seen it before. She asks Dan about it, and he flies into a rage again, telling her that it's nothing, just something he carries around with him. Maddie is suspicious. Then the station boy tells her that the reason the train was late is that a child fell off the train and was killed. Apparently, this was an accident. When the boy speaks these words, Dan groans audibly.
Maddie says nothing more, but that in itself is telling. Did Dan have something to do with the child’s death, or is he mourning his daughter, as the death of another child on this particular day is painful to contemplate? Beckett leaves the dark question open, and readers walk away from the play feeling uneasy about what Dan may or may not have done. It is clear that he loved his lost daughter, but what has that loss done to this man?
Christy is an easy-going young neighbor who drives a horse and cart. He sells dung. He stops along the road and shares a few friendly words with Maddie Rooney as she walks to the train station. He remarks that it is “a nice day for the races,” and when Maddie asks him about his family, he reports that his wife is “no better” and his daughter is “no worse.” His cart horse is a hinny—the offspring of a horse and a donkey.
When a mail truck drives by, he is annoyed that it upsets his hinny. He asks Maddie if she would like to buy some sty dung—that's why he has stopped. Maddie promises to ask Dan about it but mutters that they don’t need dung at this time in their lives. Maddie goads Christy into giving his hinny a few whips on the rump, then flirts with him, saying that she (Maddie) would really move if she had been whipped on the rump like that. Christy says nothing in reply. Maddie is unnerved by how Christy’s hinny stares at her, and she asks him to move on. Christy heads on his way.
Tyler is the next neighbor Maddie meets on the road. He is riding on his bicycle, and he startles Maddie when he rings his bell. She calls him a stalker, and he remonstrates that he did “tinkle his bell” as he rode up. Tyler is a bit prissier than Christy. Maddie asks how his daughter his doing, and he admits that she needed an operation to remove “the whole bag of tricks,” so he will never have a grandchild. Maddie is annoyed by how he wobbles on his bike, but when he asks if he can balance himself by putting a hand to her shoulder, she refuses.
A large van speeds by. Tyler appears to disappear for a moment and then reappears. Maddie and Tyler walk together, Tyler pushing his bike, and they agree it was a “narrow squeak” with the van. Tyler “alit in the nick of time.” They are both covered in white dust from the van incident. Maddie hears Tyler mutter something, and he tells her he was only “cursing God and man” under his breath, and cursing “the wet Saturday afternoon of his conception.” His bike’s back tire is flat. It is just too much for him to contemplate having to fix it.
Tyler fusses that he is “doubly, triply, quadruply” late meeting his friend Hardy at the train station. He tells Maddie that he and Hardy used to climb together, that he saved Hardy’s life once, and that he has not forgotten it (implying that Hardy has forgotten).
After listening to a few bucolic farm animals, Tyler admits that it is nice to be out in the fine weather, half-alive and out of hospital. He offers to help Maddie to the train station, but she becomes distraught and shouts that he is molesting her. Tyler says nothing more and rides off on his bike with its flat tire.
Slocum is a wealthy neighbor who drives a nice car. He stops and kindly offers Maddie a ride to the train station. Maddie calls him an old admirer. He tells her that his mother is out of pain and fairly comfortable. Maddie worries about getting into his car. She cannot get in by herself. Slocum gets out and pushes her from behind, though he is weak and as old as she is. He grunts and pushes. Maddie urges him onward and giggles as though he is tickling her. Finally, she is in the car, but she is annoyed that her frock has been ripped. Slocum makes several grumbling noises as he gets into the car.
It won’t start. Maddie asks what he is doing, and he replies he is “staring out of the wind screen, into the void.” Slocum opines that the car ran like a dream all morning but is now dead: “That’s what you get for a good deed.” He chokes the car, and it finally starts.
As they drive down the road, Slocum’s car strikes a hen and kills it. Maddie tells him to drive on and delivers an elegy for the poor hen. “One great squawk, and then, peace.” Slocum delivers Maddie, and getting her out of the car is even more difficult. Slocum asks for help from Tommy, a worker at the train station. Popping Maddie out of the car sounds like she is a baby being birthed. “She’s out!” Tommy finally exclaims. Slocum drives off.
Miss Betty Fitt is a neighbor of Maddie whom she meets at the train station. Miss Fitt is a fervent churchgoer and likes to talk about being “alone with her maker.” She admits that because she is so connected to God, she is not very observant, even at church, and sometimes stumbles about. She is happy that her fellow churchgoers know her ways now and “take no umbrage” at her behavior. “I am very estranged, even on weekdays,” she confesses. Sometimes at tea with her mother, she says, she will eat her doily instead of her bread and butter, that is how estranged she is.
Maddie asks Miss Fitt if she could help her climb “this cliff,” the steep stairs, and they walk up together. Maddie flies off the handle, as she is in a moody state today, and Miss Fitt observes that she does not think it is wise for Maddie to be going about at all. But she agrees to help—it is the “Protestant thing to do.” As they join hands and walk up, Maddie points out that Miss Fitt is “just a bag of bones and needs building up.”
It is an arduous climb for the two women. Maddie starts to sing a church hymn, and Miss Fitt shouts at her to stop or she will drop her. Some rather unkind people at the train station laugh at Miss Fitt and Maddie, who are stuck halfway up the stairs. The women continue on their journey and reach the top. Maddie thanks Miss Fitt for her assistance. Miss Fitt heads off to find her mother, who is coming in on the last train. When she finds out that the train is late, Miss Fitt is quite anxious for the health of her mother and hopes all is well. She steps outside to wait on the exterior platform.