Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1012
The Actress The Actress is Lizzie's friend and, by all appearances, lover. It is at her request that the tale of Lizzie's past is re-enacted Once the flashbacks begin, the Actress assumes the role of Lizzie. In this capacity, she recreates the events leading up to the murders Basing her assumptions on what she knows of the family's history, the facts of the murders, and her own personal knowledge of Lizzie's personality, the Actress pieces the past together She arrives at the conclusion that Lizzie did commit the murders as a means to escape the claustrophobic life that her family—and society—imposed upon her.
Abigail Borden She married Mr. Borden, a widower with two young girls, and she has never had a good relationship with Lizzie. She would rather not deal with her stepdaughter at all. When she is forced to confront Lizzie, she is harsh and critical, telling the girl that she must do what is expected of her (get married, move out, and have a family of her own) if she wants to progress in the world. Abigail is manipulative, jealous, and, like her brother, Harry, scheming. She sees Lizzie as a threat to the lifestyle that she wants for herself. Unlike her husband, who is stern with Lizzie because he is confounded by her, Abigail's animosity is rooted in dislike and jealousy.
Andrew Borden Mr. Borden is the man of the house and therefore the one with power. He makes the decisions. Yet he is nagged by his wife and badgered by Lizzie, in their running feud over her future. He prefers not to deal with Lizzie if he can help it. He is pleasant to her if she is being good, but when he is exasperated with her, he can explode, as he does when he attacks her pigeons with the hatchet His confusion with his daughter's behavior leads him to avoid her when possible and brutalize her when he is cornered by her. While he is not a physical threat to Lizzie's survival, his deal with Harry will effectively terminate the small amount of freedom Lizzie enjoys. For this reason his death is rationalized by Lizzie (and the Actress playing her in the dream thesis portions) as necessary for her own survival.
Emma Borden Emma is Lizzie's older sister. Since her mother's early death, Lizzie has essentially been raised by her sister. Emma is a kind and loving person, but she is also meek and non-confrontational. She refuses to face facts, preferring to let any problems work themselves out over time When Lizzie exhorts her sister to help her put a stop to Harry's plans, Emma refuses and instead goes off to visit some friends at the beach. While she loves her younger sister, Emma does not understand Lizzie. Like the Actress, Emma also believes that her sister committed the murders. She, however, cannot grasp the circumstances that might explain why her sister would commit such a crime.
Miss Lizzie Borden Lizzie is the play's central character, the axis around which the play events occur. Ten years after the murder of her parents, a crime for which she was accused and later acquitted, she lives with her sister Emma. In both the play's present and in the flashback sequences, Lizzie is a headstrong, slightly eccentric woman. She has very firm beliefs about living her life by her own rules. Contrary to the expectations placed on women in the late 1800s, Lizzie has no desire to marry and become a glorified domestic servant to a man she does not love. She wishes to follow her own path...
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and, like the pigeons she kept, soar above the confines of the earth.
In the play's present, ten years after the murders, Lizzie has evolved into something of a legend in her hometown. There are still whispers of her guilt, and her obvious sexual relationship with the Actress give further credence to the town gossip that she is an antisocial freak, an aberration of nature. True to her belief that people should be allowed to pursue their own interests regardless of what others think, there is a part of Lizzie that relishes her outlaw status. By living her life publicly without shame or apology, she is showing others like her that it is okay to be yourself.
Pollock allows the audience to view the character of Lizzie from two unique perspectives in the play. The first is the actual Lizzie who entertains the Actress in her home during the play's present tune frame. The second Lizzie is presented in the flashback sequences In these scenes, Lizzie is portrayed by her friend the Actress, an outsider to the events that took place ten years prior.
Dr. Patrick Patrick is Lizzie's closest ally. He frequently visits her, going on long walks during which the two discuss their escape fantasies. While he is sympathetic to Lizzie's hopes and dreams, he does not fully understand her or her need for personal freedom. He responds to Lizzie's flirtation and intellectual ponderings, but when she challenges him in a mental game about the value of life—and the possibility of taking life—he has no real answer. In the courtroom sequences, he also plays the part of the Defense, arguing for Lizzie's innocence.
Harry Wingate Harry is Lizzie's step uncle and the catalyst for her decision to murder her parents. He arrives at the Borden home to convince Lizzie's father to sign away ownership of the family farm to his wife, Harry's sister. Harry will then run the farm as an auction site. The deal that Harry and her father arrive at convinces Lizzie that she will be slowly eliminated from the family, her means of support cut off. Knowing that, once in control of the family's resources, her stepmother will force her out of the house and into a marriage that she does not want, Lizzie knows that she must act to preserve her life. Harry is little more than a two-dimensional conniver whose presence is more or less a wake up call to Lizzie.