Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1588
Bus is an older, established secretary who has worked for nine congressmen. When the play begins, she has just been fired by her boss, Eddie Wister, so that he can hire another secretary sent to him by the steel industry. As she is saying goodbye to Marjorie, she hears Alan McClean talking about his attempts to stop the Appropriations Committee from passing H. R. 2007, and she offers to help him with her experience about how the system works. Bus is sometimes hopeful that something can be done about the corrupt system, but she is usually fatalistic. It is Bus who has the last line of the play; when Sol brags that he will never be stopped, she says, ‘‘Maybe,’’ showing that she is still open to the possibility of a world without graft.
Dell is one of the members of the House Appropriations Committee and a supporter of Gray. Dell makes deals with congressmen from other states in order to get H. R. 2007 passed.
Ebner is one of the political independents in Congress who does not have the power to force the projects he supports into H. R. 2007, until McClean shows up as a leader. With McClean’s guidance, he is enthusiastic about defeating the bill and creating a new system of order in American politics.
A congressman from California, one of Farnum’s pet projects is a national park at the home of Joaquin Miller, although he does not know who Miller is.
Solomon Fitzmaurice, Sol for short, is a representative of all that is wrong with the political system. He is intelligent, but he hides his shrewdness by whining about not making much money. He is friendly to all, and pretends to empathize with both sides in a disagreement. He is more interested in drinking liquor than in working for his constituents. And his main concern is to pass legislation that will lead directly to his own financial gain. In particular, Sol is interested in getting the Atlantic Fleet to dock for the winter at Rocky Point, Long Island, so that sailors on leave will spend money at a housing project he owns. When Alan McClean decides to oppose the established politicians on the appropriations bill, he seeks out Sol as an accomplice, remembering that Sol once said he himself was an idealist when he came to Congress. Sol tells him an inspiring story but tries to persuade McClean to change his mind, offering him a particularly cynical view of politics: ‘‘The sole business of government is graft, special privilege, and corruption—with a by-product of order.’’ Sol is fiercely dedicated to Gray and is defensive of the chairman’s reputation, though he is willing to make fun of all other congresspersons, including himself.
Marjorie is the daughter of Congressman Simeon Gray and is also his secretary. In addition, she has a budding personal relationship with Alan McClean; when Bus suggests that he seems to look at her with adoration, Marjorie answers, ‘‘I wouldn’t really mind!’’ Her affection for the two men puts Marjorie in an awkward position. At first, she seems to be grooming McClean so that he will turn out to be as smart and principled in the business of politics as her father. When she finds out that he has information he intends to use against Gray if the bill is passed, Marjorie’s sympathies are solidly with her father. When she becomes suspicious about whether her father’s involvement with a potentially lucrative deal is as innocent as he has told her, he explains that losing the deal could make him susceptible to punishment, even imprisonment; and so Marjorie begs McClean to drop his opposition.
Also referred to as Sime, Gray is the most powerful politician in the play. He is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. One of his duties is to make sure the president will approve of all of the provisions in a bill before Congress sends it to him formally. Gray is considered one of the most honest men in the Congress—the one who is most effective in holding waste and corruption to a minimum. Alan finds out that Gray has a secret reason for wanting H. R. 2007 to pass: one of its provisions would greatly help the bank in Gray’s home district, and he holds a substantial interest in the bank. Gray explains that his financial concern is secondary and that he is really looking out for the economic welfare of his constituents, but privately he explains to Marjorie that he, as a member of the board of directors, could face a jail sentence if the bank were to fail. When the bill passes the committee with a ridiculously large budget, Gray uses all of his influence to make sure that the House passes it.
An influential congressman, Levering is ‘‘the presidential mouthpiece—the official whipper-in of the administration.’’ He has a long talk with Alan, trying gently but firmly to persuade him to vote for the legislation. Some of the other congressmen call him Dizzy or Disraeli, after Benjamin Disraeli, a nineteenth-century British prime minister known for great foreign and domestic achievements.
The clerk who delivers the mail, Mark is the voice of common people in the play. Regarding the activities going on around the House offices, he asks, ‘‘What good’s all this—that’s what I want to know?’’
McClean is the central character in this drama, a young congressman who is willing to fight to change the system. He was elected to Congress on a platform of getting a dam built so that farmers in his home state, Nevada, could irrigate their land. At first, it is assumed that McClean will naturally support H. R. 2007 because it provides money for the dam, but he withdraws support when he finds out that the dam is costing many times more than it should and that his own election was financed by construction groups who would benefit from building the dam. McClean’s father was a newspaper publisher who took a stand against political corruption, and McClean is so honest that he hires a private investigative firm to examine his own campaign. He opposes the bill’s passage because it will waste taxpayer money. Even when Marjorie, the woman he is interested in, begs him to stop his opposition to the bill, he feels that the interests of the majority come before his own interests.
Many experienced politicians see Alan as naïve in his idealism, but he is clever enough to change his tactics: when it appears that his campaign to kill the bill will not work, he supports it but loads it with so much obvious waste that the public cannot fail to see it. He is shrewd enough to think that politicians will shy away from the bad publicity that such waste would cause, but he underestimates their greed; most of them are so enthusiastic about voting in a huge appropriations bill that they cannot see the inevitable consequence of having to face the voters. Alan ends up still willing to fight against government waste on the behalf of the American taxpayers even though no one else believes he will be successful.
Miss Bess McMurtry
McMurtry is a congresswoman on the Appropriations Committee who supports money used to increase the number of maternity nurses, and to distribute birth control information and contraceptives.
Alan McClean’s secretary at the start of the play, Merton is fired at the end of act 1 when Alan finds out that he has been keeping an eye on the young congressman’s activities for other, established politicians and reporting to them on a regular basis.
A congressman from the South, Peebles has a defeatist attitude about appropriations, telling others who have had their pet projects cut that the South was left for decades after the Civil War with little financial support from the United States government.
One of the congressmen who supports the bill, Sneden worries that the time spent attending to government matters is keeping him away from the golf course.
Trumper is a congressman who does not appear on stage but is talked about. He is one of the ‘‘swing votes,’’ willing to vote against the appropriations bill for concessions that are ridiculous, such as free seeds and free silver. (The free silver issue involves a suspicion by the common people that rich people were trying to control the government by keeping silver out of circulation.) Alan is astonished that Trumper thinks of himself as a logical candidate for the presidency.
One of the members of the Appropriations Committee, Wingblatt is dedicated to seeing that the bill that is negotiated will have enough support to pass both houses of Congress.
Eddie is a deal-maker who has held up the committee’s business at the beginning of the play because he has been in New York making deals with the steel industry. Bus is fired as his secretary so that he can hire Miss Corey, a pretty blonde with no experience who has been the secretary for Col. Sprague of Appalachian Steel. He supports an appropriation on behalf of The Committee of 48 on National Defense, which, despite its political-sounding name, is a group of steel companies. It later comes up that Eddie has had private detectives examine Simeon Gray in order to get information with which to blackmail him.
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