Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655
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Neil McRae, a pianist and composer. At about age thirty, he seems to be without prospects because his impracticality borders on the irresponsible. He is, however, personable and engaging, and his apparent indifference to material well-being springs more from his artistic creed than from sloth or carelessness. Wholly dedicated to his music, he lives an independent, quasi-bohemian life that is much too quixotic to suit the Cady clan. Although not in love with Gladys, Neil proposes to her when his need to be “subsidized” is pressed by Dr. Rice and Cynthia Mason. In a dream induced by sleeping pills, Neil envisions a nightmarish future with Gladys and his potential in-laws. He wakes up a wiser man, in love with Cynthia, the proper person, and determined to reject all that the Cadys represent, including the prostitution of his art.
Dr. Albert Rice
Dr. Albert Rice, a long-standing friend to Neil and of the same age. He is humorous and amiable, and he is considerably more practical than Neil. He has a genuine concern for his friend’s health, material welfare, and artistic future. In addition to providing the pills that put Neil to sleep, he enlists Cynthia’s help in convincing Neil to propose to Gladys. As do the other characters, he appears in other guises in Neil’s dream, first as the minister who marries Neil and Gladys, then as a reporter at Neil’s trial.
Cynthia Mason, Neil’s neighbor, also a musician, about twenty-five years old. Initially, she seems too motherly toward Neil, taking him to task for his wasteful behavior and forgetfulness. Her concern, however, springs from love and great respect for Neil’s talent. More practical than Neil, at first she is willing to suppress her own desires to advance his career, but then, fortuitously, she has second thoughts. In the dream vignettes, it becomes clear that she is much better suited to Neil than is Gladys.
Gladys Cady, Neil’s only piano student, presumably of Cynthia’s age. She is on the spoiled and flighty side, determined to keep life amusing and fun. Thanks to her father’s wealth and her shallowness, this is quite possible. Her tastes are entirely wrong for Neil, but it is only in his nightmarish dream, in which they are married, that he comes to realize it. It is fortunate for both of them that Gladys encounters an old flame and wants to cancel their engagement.
Mr. Cady, a no-nonsense businessman and patriarch of the Cady family. Bossy and brusque, he is a cultural philistine who believes that art, like any commodity, is good only if it can be sold at a profit. He is dedicated to two things: making money and playing golf. In Neil’s dream, he is caricatured first as a crude and blustering but extremely rich manufacturer of “widgets,” then as the hanging judge at Neil’s murder trial.
Mrs. Cady, the mother of Homer and Gladys. She is a rather vapid woman caught up in small-town speculations and gossip. Like her daughter, she is shallow and silly, traits that become exaggerated in her depiction in Neil’s dream. Her pampering of Homer helps explain his unpleasant nature.
Homer Cady, Gladys’ brother. He is a surly and suspicious young man who is no more refined than his father. Although he claims to be delicate, he is a recalcitrant and loutish hypochondriac who takes issue with anything said. His appalling lack of taste is reflected by his garish yellow tie, which, in Neil’s dream, grows larger and larger. Increasingly Neil’s nemesis, in the dream trial he becomes the prosecuting attorney.
Jerry, an obliging young porter in Neil’s apartment house. Affable and polite, he appears as a jack-of-all-roles in Neil’s dream, assuming identities ranging from elevator boy to ticket taker at the murder trial to executioner.