Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1751
Mrs. Atkins is Ruth’s widowed, invalid mother, who never forgives her daughter for marrying Robert Mayo instead of Andy. Mrs. Atkins criticizes Robert’s inefficiency in running both the Mayo farm and her farm. She also complains about Ruth and Robert’s sickly child, Mary, who often cries to her mother. Mrs. Atkins is an extremely religious person and says cruelly to Kate Mayo that her husband died early because he was a sinner and that the ill-fated marriage between Robert and Ruth was also a result of God’s will. Although Mrs. Atkins claims in the second act that she is about to die, she outlives many of the other characters and survives until the end of the play. At this point, she is sneaking money to Ruth behind Robert’s back to help pay the bills, since Robert is having a hard time keeping the farm running on his own.
Ruth Atkins is Mrs. Atkins’s daughter and the wife of Robert Mayo. In the beginning, she dates Andy, but she falls in love with Robert when he speaks about his dream of going on a sea voyage. As a result, she tells him she does not love Andy and convinces Robert not to go on his voyage. Her choice influences Andy to leave the Mayo farm and take Robert’s place on the voyage, since he cannot bear to see Ruth with another man, especially his brother. As the play goes on, Ruth’s happiness and her ability to love slowly wane. Three years later, Ruth has aged considerably. She and Robert hate each other, and Ruth says she loves Andy. They both agree that if it were not for Mary (their small, sickly child) they would leave each other. Ruth tries to rekindle the flame with Andy when he comes home for a visit, but before she can tell him her feelings, he lets her know that he does not love her anymore. Ruth is hurt and is rude to Andy, who assumes she does not want him around.
When Andy comes home again five years later, Mary has died, and Ruth is a broken woman. Like the Mayo farm, her life is in decay, and she sits around while Robert’s health quickly declines. She accepts money from her mother, behind Robert’s back, to help pay the bills. When Robert shows some renewed energy in his feverish state and says that they should move to the city and start over, Ruth is frightened. When Andy comes in with a medical specialist, who tells them that Robert is dying, and Andy blames Ruth, she is too exhausted to fight back. Robert’s dying wish is to have Andy marry Ruth, which Andy suggests at the end of the play. But, Ruth is too exhausted to care and does not indicate whether she will be willing to do this.
Ben is the farmhand who quits working for Robert because he is ashamed to work for such a poor farm.
Doctor Fawcett is the specialist that Andy brings to see Robert. Fawcett tells Andy and Ruth that Robert is dying of tuberculosis and that if Robert had gotten to a better climate six months earlier, he might have survived.
Andrew Mayo, or Andy, as most of his family calls him, is the son who is expected to take over the Mayo farm. He shocks everybody when he leaves the farm to go on a sea voyage with his uncle, Captain Scott. In the beginning, Andy is in love with Ruth Atkins and is looking forward to taking over the farm. He is distraught when his brother, Robert, whom he loves dearly, decides to cancel his sea voyage to marry Ruth and stay on the farm. Andy’s decision to go to sea creates a permanent rift between him and his father, James, who dies while Andy is at sea. During Andy’s three years at sea, Captain Scott trains him to become a naval officer, a career that he decides to abandon after his first voyage. The first time he comes home to visit, he makes it a point to tell both Robert and Ruth that he does not love Ruth anymore, thinking that it will remove the awkwardness between them. Instead, he hurts Ruth, who was preparing to declare her love for him.
Before Andy arrives home for his first visit, everybody places their hopes on him, thinking from his letters that he will stay to work on the farm and undo the damage that Robert has done. However, Andy lets everybody know that he is shipping out to Buenos Aires, where he plans to get rich in the grain business and send money home to help everybody. When he comes home five years later, he has gotten rich but lost almost all of his fortune through speculative investing. Andy brings a medical specialist with him, who tells Andy and Ruth that Robert is dying. Andy is angry at first and takes it out on Ruth for not contacting him sooner, until he realizes that Ruth and Robert were too poor, and Robert was too proud, to contact him. Although Andy plans to go back to Buenos Aires to make another fortune, Robert’s dying wish is to have Andy marry Ruth and take care of her. Andy suggests to Ruth at the end of the play that maybe this plan would work out all right, but Ruth is exhausted from her disastrous marriage to Robert and shows no sign of agreement.
Mr. James Mayo
James Mayo is the father of Andrew and Robert. He dies while Andy is at sea. In the beginning, Andy is planning on working on his father’s farm for the rest of his life, and James’s love and respect for his son and his son’s skills are evident. However, after Robert announces that he is staying home to marry Ruth, and Andy responds by saying he will take Robert’s place on the voyage, James accuses Andy of evasion. They get into a big fight, and Andy lies, saying that he hates the farm and wants to see the world. James is shocked and hurt, and he disowns his son. Several of the characters later discuss whether James ever forgave Andy for leaving. Most think he did not.
Mrs. Kate Mayo
Kate Mayo is the mother of Andrew and Robert. She also dies while Andy is at sea. Kate is the one who realizes that Ruth is not in love with Andy and is overjoyed when Robert decides to cancel his sea voyage. She tries to smooth over the fight between James and Andy, and after James’s death, she is the only one who believes that, in his heart, her husband did forgive Andy. Kate sits by silently while Robert’s marriage and the farm are in trouble, trusting that Robert can handle himself, although she agrees with Mrs. Atkins that Andy and Ruth would have made a better match. When Andy comes home three years after going to sea, she, like everybody else, thinks he is coming home to stay. She plans a big dinner for him. Her death is one of the factors that leads to Robert’s decline in health.
Mary Mayo is the sickly child of Robert and Ruth. She dies sometime between Andy’s first and second visits home. Her death is one of the factors that leads to Robert’s steady decline in health.
Robert Mayo is Andrew’s brother, who cancels his sea voyage to stay on the Mayo farm and marry Ruth Atkins. His decision influences Andy to take Robert’s place, since Andy also loves Ruth and cannot stand to see somebody else with her. Robert’s marriage is ill-fated, since he is not a farmer like Andy and does not know how to properly manage a farm; his situation gets even worse after his father dies. Robert spends a lot of time daydreaming about the voyage he never took, and as a result he loses farmhands and barely makes enough money to pay the bills. Without his knowledge, Ruth accepts money from her mother to help pay the bills. When Andy comes home after his first voyage, Robert, like everybody else, hopes that Andy will take over the farm once again and is distraught when he finds out that Andy is leaving again.
Robert’s marriage to Ruth deteriorates while Andy is at sea, and the only thing that keeps them together is their daughter, Mary. When Robert’s mother and Mary die, Robert’s health rapidly declines. Robert becomes confined to a sickbed. At one point, sick with fever, Robert gets a burst of energy and tells Ruth they should move to the city and start over. Ruth sends an urgent message to Andy, who comes home. Andy brings a medical specialist with him, who tells them that Robert is dying of a lung disease and that if they had taken Robert away to a better climate six months earlier, he might have lived. Andy is distraught, but Ruth accepts this as just one more tragedy in her life. Robert, meanwhile, is overjoyed, because he sees his death as his opportunity to finally leave the farm and travel ‘‘beyond the horizon.’’ Robert’s dying wish is to have Andy marry Ruth and take care of her.
See Ruth Atkins
Captain Dick Scott
Captain Dick Scott is Kate Mayo’s brother and the uncle of Robert and Andrew. In the beginning of the play, Scott has made plans for Robert to accompany him on a sea voyage. When Robert backs out to stay on the farm and marry Ruth, Scott is distraught, because he wanted somebody to talk to and train on the voyage. He is also concerned that his shipmates will think that Robert’s empty bunk was meant for a woman who jilted their captain and that he will take a lot of teasing for this. As a result, he is overjoyed when Andy decides to take Robert’s place and tells Andy that he will make a better seaman than his sickly brother, anyway. Scott trains Andy to be an officer and gives him the tip that a ship is leaving for Buenos Aires, where Andy works for five years trying to make a fortune in the grain business.
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