Act 1 Summary and Analysis
Act 1 opens on Mrs. Johnstone, who expresses her wish that the narrative about to unfold were “just a story.” The Narrator, who assumes various minor roles during the play, tells the audience about the tragic fates of the Johnstone twins, who end up dying on the same day. A mime of the death of the twins briefly plays out onstage.
The scene shifts to a younger, pregnant Mrs. Johnstone, who has recently been abandoned by her husband. Living a life of extreme poverty, Mrs. Johnstone and her five children often go to bed hungry. However, Mrs. Johnstone is hopeful of the future, because she is due to start a new job soon. She promises they will soon have plenty of food to eat and “live like kings… like Marilyn Monroe.” Throughout the play, Mrs. Johnstone expresses her ambition to be like the actor Marilyn Monroe, whom her husband used to say she once resembled.
Mrs. Johnstone goes to work as a housekeeper at the home of the wealthy but lonely Mrs. Lyons. Mrs. Lyons is often left alone for several months as her husband travels for work. She wishes she could adopt a child to lessen her loneliness, but Mr. Lyons disapproves of adoption.
When Mrs. Johnstone hears the troubling news that she is to give the birth to twins, she fears the Welfare department may deem her unable to provide for two additional mouths and thus place her children in foster care. As a solution to Mrs. Johnstone’s predicament, Mrs. Lyons proposes that Mrs. Johnstone give her one of the babies once it is born. Since her husband is not due home for five more months, Mrs. Lyons can easily simulate a pregnancy and pretend she gave birth to a child while he was away. Though Mrs. Johnstone is reluctant to accept the proposal at first, she is ultimately convinced by the prospect that at least one of her children may have a better life. Mrs. Lyons promises Mrs. Johnstone she will be able to see her child regularly when she comes in to work.
However, Mrs. Johnstone does not immediately inform Mrs. Lyons of the birth of her twin sons. Mrs. Lyons visits Mrs. Johnstone and chides her for attempting to renege on her promise. Mrs. Johnstone requests that Mrs. Lyons let her keep the baby for a few more days, but Mrs. Lyons refuses to wait for her, because her husband is due home the next day. A dejected Mrs. Johnstone asks Mrs. Lyons to take any one of the infants while she looks away. Later she tells her older children that one of the babies “went to heaven.”
As Mrs. Johnstone resumes work at the Lyons house, Mrs. Lyons begins to resent her involvement with the baby, whom the Lyons have named Edward. Fearing Edward may get too attached to Mrs. Johnstone, Mrs. Lyons terminates Mrs. Johnstone’s employment. Not only does she offer Mrs. Johnstone money in exchange for her compliance, but Mrs. Lyons also manipulates Mrs. Johnstone by preying on her superstitious nature. She lies, telling Mrs. Johnstone the twins must never know they are related, because separated twins die the day they realize they are brothers. Terrified, Mrs. Lyons takes the money and exits.
In the next scene, Edward’s twin, Mickey, is seven years old. The Johnstone house is as chaotic as ever. Mrs. Johnstone fears that each knock on the door is from a debt-collector. Preoccupied, Mrs. Johnstone sends Mickey out to play. On the street, a petulant, lonely Mickey laments being bullied by his older brother Sammy. To his delight, he is soon joined by another child his age: Edward.
The two children immediately strike up a friendship, each attracted by the contrast in the other’s mannerism and temperament. They agree to become “blood brothers,” cutting their palms, shaking hands, and swearing a solemn oath of loyalty. Sammy approaches them with a cocked gun, steals Mickey’s sweets, and derides Edward for being a “poshy.” When Mrs. Johnstone appears on the street looking for Mickey, she is startled to discover that his new friend is Edward Lyons, the baby she gave away seven years ago....
(The entire section is 1,376 words.)