Bessie Berger, a working-class Jewish American housewife struggling to hold her family together during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Bessie values the appearance of respectability above all else. Her greatest fear is that she and her family might be put out of their home and thrown into the street, as an old lady who lived near them has been. Bessie is domineering and self-righteous. She does not think deeply. Her life is centered on her family, three generations of which live in a cramped apartment in the Bronx.
Myron Berger, Bessie’s husband, a follower rather than a leader. Myron is a broken man, completely controlled by Bessie, who is much stronger than he is. He once studied law at night school but did not complete his studies. He tries innocently to overcome the hardships of the Depression by buying chances on the Irish Sweepstakes and by betting a few dollars on a horse, convinced that the government would not let such enterprises be crooked. His chances of winning are his only tangible hopes for the future.
Ralph Berger, Myron and Bessie’s idealistic son, who scrapes by on the sixteen dollars a week he earns only by living at home. He contributes much-needed funds to the family coffers. He has a girlfriend, Blanche, but cannot entertain any realistic idea of marrying her because of his financial situation. Bessie’s moral posture, the appearance of respectability at any price, appalls Ralph, a decent person who has never had an even break. When he was a child, there was never money to have his teeth fixed or to buy him a pair of roller skates he wanted. Now that he is earning money, little has changed. He still barely survives economically, and he still cannot live his own life.
Hennie Berger, Myron and Bessie’s...
(The entire section is 777 words.)