Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 644
Eugene Morris Jerome
Eugene Morris Jerome, an Army recruit from Brooklyn, New York. Eugene is a young Jewish man who aspires to be a writer. He fervently records his deepest thoughts and impressions in his journal, often leaving himself more an observer than a participant in human interactions. He does have principles—respect, compassion, and open-mindedness—but he is hesitant to act on them. He always sees the lighter side of life, and he enlists his quick and acerbic wit to ease him through difficult situations. Having lived a sheltered life, Eugene is eager and determined to lose his virginity and fall in love. At least at the beginning of the play, he does not quite know the difference.
Arnold Epstein, an Army recruit from Queens, New York. Epstein is a stubborn Jewish intellectual who has very strong principles and absolutely refuses to compromise them. He has a nervous stomach and resents being in basic training, and he cannot understand why rigorous discipline and blind obedience are considered superior to respect and compassion in the shaping of soldiers. He immediately identifies Toomey as his enemy and squares off for a fierce battle. To Epstein, life is serious business, a continuous moral quandary. He is clever and sardonic, but rarely light-spirited. When humiliated, and even when beaten on his own terms, he accepts defeat stoically.
Joseph Wykowski, a recruit of Polish background from Bridgeport, Connecticut, with a stomach of steel and an irrepressible sex drive. Wykowski accepts the rigors of Army discipline without question: To him it is a game that, like any game, he can win. He is decidedly nonintellectual and occasionally anti-Semitic, and he has no patience for moral ruminations. He is the self-proclaimed leader of the platoon. His simple strength and basic clear vision validate his arrogance.
Roy Selridge, a recruit from Schenectady, New York. Selridge is a young man with an engaging, though often overbearing, sense of humor. He falls in behind Wykowski as a coarse masculine voice in the group but ultimately lacks the courage to speak out or stand alone. Though his bravado is often hollow, his spirit is always generous and optimistic.
Donald Carney, a recruit from Montclair, New Jersey. Carney loves to sing—he sings in his sleep—and dreams of becoming a recording star. He is basically honest and good-natured but thoughtful to a fault: He has a hard time making decisions. He is faithful to his fiancée in Albany but views the prospect of marriage with serious trepidation.
James Hennesey, another recruit. He is a timid young man, relatively innocent and humorless. He misses his family but seems to be adapting well enough to Army life until he is discovered in a homosexual liaison with another soldier.
Merwyn J. Toomey
Merwyn J. Toomey, the sergeant overseeing the platoon’s basic training. Toomey is a hard-boiled Southern military man who knows how to deal with trickery and back talk. He pits the recruits against one another to subjugate them to Army discipline. He accepts the special challenge that Epstein directs at him and determines to win the battle of wills. He has a steel plate in his head, a souvenir from the North African campaign, that accounts for his wholehearted commitment to the rigorous treatment of his soldiers, his sublimated sense of sadness and doom, and, ultimately, his premature retirement from active duty.
Rowena, a Biloxi prostitute. Rowena is direct and realistic: She is a happily married woman whose business is satisfying the sexual needs of young soldiers and peddling perfume and lingerie for them to send home to their girlfriends.
Daisy Hannigan, a local Catholic schoolgirl. Daisy is friendly, pretty, innocent, and dutiful. the daughter of a journalist from Chicago, she likes books and is enchanted with Eugene’s literary aspirations.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 668
Don Carney is a private from New Jersey. He mistakenly thinks of himself as a crooner and irritates his bunkmates with his singing. Eugene, the narrator of the play, believes that Carney's most noteworthy trait is his indecisiveness. Because of this, Eugene does not entirely trust him.
Arnold Epstein is a Jew from New York. He has a sensitive mind and an equally sensitive stomach. He is well read and intelligent. He feels he does not belong in the army, and he refuses to allow his spirit to be broken by Sergeant Toomey. Instead, Arnold rebels; for example, he refuses to eat food from the mess hall even though it means days of latrine duty. He shows himself to be responsible to a higher moral calling by taking the blame for the theft of Wykowski's money so that the other soldiers can go on leave. Eugene admires Arnold's steadfastness and his pursuit of truth and justice. Of all the soldiers, Arnold is able to keep calm, despite the problems presented by camp life and his fellow recruits.
Eugene Morris Jerome
Eugene is the narrator of the play. He is from Brooklyn, New York, and his army experience represents his first time away from home. He is Jewish. He has three goals for the war: he wants to become a writer, not get killed, and lose his virginity. All his actions during training are focused on the achievement of these goals. As part of becoming a writer, Eugene keeps a journal in which he records his thoughts. This habit suggests that Eugene is more interested in observing what goes on around him than in participating in it. Eugene recognizes this fact; for example, he chastises himself for not standing up for Arnold when Wykowski harasses him for being Jewish. Eugene's eventual army assignment—as a journalist for an army publication—also reinforces the way that Eugene interacts with the world—writing about it instead of being someone who makes things happen.
See Joseph Wykowski.
Rowena is the prostitute to whom Eugene loses his virginity. She gives Eugene a "freebie,’’ and he is greatly disappointed when he returns, and she does not even remember him.
Roy Selridge is a private from New York who demonstrates little unique personality. Instead, he follows Wykowski's lead.
Eugene meets Daisy at a USO dance. She attends a local Catholic school. They only meet again twice, yet they declare their love for one another right before Eugene ships out. They never see each other again, but Eugene learns that Daisy ends up marrying a Jew.
James Hennesey is a private in the platoon. He forces Wykowski to reveal his prejudice by claiming to be part African-American. At the end of the play, Hennesey's participation in a homosexual act is revealed. He is sent to prison for three months, after which he will be given a dishonorable discharge.
Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey
Sergeant Toomey is the company's sadistic leader. He often hands out grueling and unpleasant punishments for mild infractions. He constantly tests the soldiers and tries to teach them hard lessons; in one instance he steals Wykowski's money. Toomey dislikes Arnold's questioning the army's authority and his refusal to follow orders. Toomey's most important goals are to break Arnold's spirit and to make a real soldier of him. Toomey is relieved of his duties before the ten-week training is up and sent to a veteran's hospital.
Joseph Wykowski (also called Kowski) is a private from Connecticut. Wykowski is a belligerent loudmouth who is prone to arguing, fighting, and bragging. Because he is the most aggressive of the privates, he becomes the company's unofficial spokesperson. However, he does not represent all the men, for he is prejudiced, casting aspersions on Jews—including his bunkmates—as well as African-Americans. Wykowski is a bully and a ringleader; for example, he is the man who encourages the reading of Eugene's diary despite objections from others.