The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel

by David Rabe

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Characters Discussed

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Pavlo Hummel

Pavlo Hummel, an army private and medic during the Vietnam War. Pavlo has red hair and green eyes, is five feet, ten inches tall, and weighs 152 pounds. Estranged from his family, Pavlo has had his name legally changed from Michael to spite the father whose identity he has never known. He worries about whether to hug his mother when he returns home. Although he grew up in New York City, Pavlo is inexperienced and innocent; his street-smart persona is an act, and the other men see through it easily. Neurotically obsessed with the impression others have of him, Pavlo lies about his sexual exploits and his experiences in crime. He claims to have stolen twenty-three cars and to have had an uncle who was executed at San Quentin prison for killing four people. He never suspects or realizes that the other men know he is lying and that they are laughing at him. Pavlo thinks that he can win friends by being a good soldier, so he resorts to flattering sergeants and volunteering for difficult tasks. When he realizes that no number of push-ups will win the friendship and respect he craves, Pavlo swallows one hundred aspirin, but he is saved by the squad leader, Pierce. Pavlo is determined to prove himself in the infantry, but he is assigned to be a medic. He follows his orders to the letter but is ashamed of his job and repeatedly asks to be transferred to the battlefield. At one point, Pavlo talks Sergeant Brisbey out of committing suicide, but his efforts lack sincerity. Parham is wounded by Vietcong and cries out for Pavlo’s help while Pavlo is asking for transfer. Pavlo carries Parham’s body to safety, more out of a desire to impress others with his bravery than out of any concern for Parham. Finally, Pavlo is assigned to the fighting. He is wounded three times and earns the Purple Heart before he wants out, but ironically his request is refused. Pavlo is killed in a senseless incident arising from a fight over a prostitute. A grenade rolls into the room, and Pavlo scoops it up and is holding it when it explodes. He takes several days to die. Despite the changes in Pavlo as he becomes harder and more cynical, the young man never acquires any real insight.


Ardell, a soldier Pavlo creates in his fantasies. A black man in sunglasses and a strange uniform with black ribbons and medals, Ardell enters and exits throughout the play to advise Pavlo. Ardell’s is an experienced and prophetic voice; the soldier teaches Pavlo about the Army and war. Ardell says that Pavlo is black inside, hiding such intense pain that the young man cannot even see himself clearly.

Sergeant Tower

Sergeant Tower, the drill sergeant. A tough black man, Tower singles out Pavlo and makes him do punitive push-ups on the first day of basic training. Throughout the play, Tower gives instructions on combat and first aid. He tells the soldiers what to do when they are lost.


Kress, one of the men in Pavlo’s unit. Large and muscular, Kress does not understand much. He flunks the proficiency test and has to repeat basic training. Kress constantly complains about being cold, even in the furnace room. Kress despises Pavlo.


Yen, a Vietnamese prostitute. Dressed in purple silk pajamas, Yen is the first woman with whom Pavlo has sex; he visits her regularly.


Pierce, the squad leader. Pierce does not participate in the harassment of Pavlo, but he understands why the other men dislike him. Pierce’s main...

(This entire section contains 752 words.)

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concern is his responsibility as leader. He is afraid of how violent incidents will reflect on him, tarnishing his military record.

Sergeant Wall

Sergeant Wall, a friend of Sergeant Brisbey. After being beaten in a fight with Pavlo over Yen, Wall throws a grenade into the room.

Sergeant Brisbey

Sergeant Brisbey, one of Pavlo’s patients. Brisbey stepped on a mine and as a result lost his testicles, both legs, and one arm. He is bitter and wants to kill himself.


Mickey, Pavlo’s half brother. Tougher than Pavlo, Mickey does not care what others think. He is a womanizer and heavy drinker and is disrespectful of their mother.

Mrs. Hummel

Mrs. Hummel, Pavlo’s mother. A small, dark-haired, plump, fashionably dressed woman, Mrs. Hummel appears distracted when Pavlo returns home. She recounts a story of a mother who learns that her son was killed in Vietnam.


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An African American soldier in a "strangely unreal'' uniform who functions as Pavlo's alter-ego throughout the play. Only Pavlo can see or hear Ardell, and Rabe uses the device of this character to depict Pavlo's extremely confused state of mind. Ardell moves in and out of the fragmented action, creating a mood of expressionism throughout the play. Ardell allows the audience a glimpse into Pavlo's interior character at crucial moments in the play; he also provides a point of transition between scenes. At the close of the first act, Ardell tells Pavlo, "Ain't doin' you no good you wish you dead, 'cause you ain't, man." Ardell transforms Pavlo by putting the latter in his dress uniform and sunglasses, preparing him for his trip home. Similarly, the play ends with Ardell and Pavlo having their final interaction As Pavlo is sealed in his coffin, Ardell prompts him to admit that in the end, the cause for and the circumstances under which he died are "all shit'' Ardell slams Pavlo's coffin shut to conclude the play.

Sergeant Brisbey
A soldier at the field hospital in Vietnam who has been crippled by a land mine. He is extremely depressed about his condition and hints strongly that he wants to kill himself, asking Pavlo for a gun.

A trainee who plays craps with Pierce. He claims to have seen Pavlo steal from one of the other
men. He and Kress are the two trainees who fail basic training.

The Corporal
Second in command of Pavlo's platoon, he leads the trainees in drills occasionally. Pavlo is envious of him because he has already seen combat in Vietnam.

A soldier who serves in the field hospital with Pavlo.

A combat-seasoned soldier and therefore a person with some authority over the trainees. He is close to the Corporal and keeps lookout while the Corporal hustles Pavlo at pool.

A trainee; he speaks with a deep Southern drawl. It is his wallet that Pavlo is accused by the other men of stealing.

Mrs. Hummel
Pavlo and Mickey's mother; she suffers from mental illness. Mrs. Hummel's story about a co-worker learning of her son's death in Vietnam is a foreshadowing of Pavlo's own death; "I know what to expect," she says to Pavlo. Pavlo tries, unsuccessfully, to get his mother to reveal to him the
identity of his father; Mrs. Hummel cannot understand why Pavlo doesn't remember her whispering his father's name to him when he was a child of three.

Michael HummelSee Pavlo Hummel

Mickey Hummel
Pavlo's half-brother, considered weird, even by Pavlo's standards; Pavlo says of him that he "don't give a rat's ass for nothin' or nobody." The relationship between Pavlo and Mickey is somewhat strained; Mickey provokes Pavlo by refusing to believe he is in the army, and stating, "Vietnam don't even exist."

Pavlo Hummel
A teenager estranged from his family who seeks companionship and meaning in his life. Pavlo's desperate desire to belong cements his ties to the U.S. Army; he remains, however, a misfit who steals from his fellow soldiers and attempts suicide to get attention. Pavlo's confused state of mind is reflected in the play's expressionistic structure and in the characterization of Ardell, whom only Pavlo sees or hears. Pavlo wants to become a model soldier, but he is inept at his training. He sees himself as an effective fighting machine, but as Rabe points out in a note to the play, the only talent Pavlo reveals is "a talent for jumping into the fire." Seasoned by his experience in Vietnam, Pavlo becomes the kind of soldier who can brag, "I'm diggin' it man. Blowin' people away. Cuttin' em down." This comment exemplifies a kind of character degeneration, a substitution for Pavlo's lack of meaningful human contact.

An American soldier Pavlo meets in Mamasan's brothel in Vietnam. More experienced not only at war but at sex, he facilitates Pavlo's first sexual encounters with the prostitute Yen. He provides Pavlo with an extremely frank introduction to Vietnam: "You gonna be here and you gonna sweat. And you gonna be here and you gonna get V.D.'"

A trainee, large and muscular, “with a constant manner of small confusion as if he feels always that something is going on that he nearly, but not quite, understands." He is from New Jersey and is unpleasantly surprised to be so cold all the time at the orgia base. Kress is one of two trainees who fails basic training the first time, for which he holds a grudge against Pavlo. When Pavlo tells him "I feel sorry for you, Kress," he thinks Pavlo is taunting him, and he responds with a physical attack.

An older Vietnamese woman and keeper of the brothel where Pavlo meets his fate.

Captain Miller
Pavlo's commanding officer at the field hospital, who first attempts to talk Pavlo out of his request for a transfer, then grants the request. Pavlo shows him a lack of respect because he is an R.0 T.C. officer rather than "regular army." (There is also a Captain who addresses Pavlo's platoon at the end of basic training; the same actor plays all the officers.)

Jay Charles Johnson Parham
A young African American Private First Class who is wounded and cries for a medic, instead he is discovered by two Viet Cong who torture him for information, then kill him

A trainee, small, wears glasses. At first, he is somewhat more sympathetic to Pavlo than the other trainees; he tells Kress not to "knock that ole boy'' because “Hummel’s gonna keep us laughin'.'' Like the other men, however, Parker does not believe Pavlo when he denies having stolen from them.

A trainee who acts as a squad leader. He is older than the other men in the squad and has a bit more life experience. While many of the trainees resent Pierce, Pavlo tries hard to please him. Pierce, meanwhile, likes Pavlo enough to try to keep him out of trouble with the other men.

Pavlo's partner on patrol in the Vietnamese jungle.

Mrs. Sorrentino
The mother of Pavlo's former girlfriend, Joanna; she appears only as a voice when Pavlo speaks to her on the phone. She hangs up on Pavlo because he is acting strangely and grows violent when he learns Joanna is unavailable.

Sergeant Tower
Pavlo's African American drill sergeant in boot camp, a tough officer who states "I am bigger than my name " Tower's name and military authority are also reflected in the drill sergeant's tower which dominates the play's set, giving him a literally central position in the play. Pavlo is fascinated by Tower, a near archetypal figure of masculine power who personifies the perfect solider in Pavlo's mind. Although Pavlo passes his basic training, however, he can never really live up to Tower's own standards and is constantly being reprimanded by the Sergeant

Sergeant Henry Wall
A friend and visitor of Brisbey's at the Vietnamese hospital, "middle-aged, gray-haired, chunky." His name somewhat describes his personality, as he is unmoved by Brisbey's shows of emotion Later, Wall is drunk and behaving lewdly in the brothel; he and Pavlo fight. Humiliated, Wall leaves the brothel and returns moments later, throwing the grenade that Mils Pavlo.

(Pronounced "Ing.'') A Vietnamese girl who is a prostitute in Mamasan's brothel. Pavlo fights with Sergeant Wall over her and is killed as a result.




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