Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605
Dodge, who is in his seventies, very thin, and sickly looking, with a chronic cough. He spends most of the play lying on the couch and later on the floor. He gradually weakens throughout the play and dies at the play’s end, after willing the house and property to his grandson Vince. Dodge apparently drowned an illegitimate child of his wife, Halie, and then buried the child, possibly conceived through incest, in the backyard, providing the play’s title and the source of the family curse. The curse may or may not be expiated by his death and the admission of guilt he makes during the play.
Halie, his wife, about sixty-five years old, with pure white hair. At the beginning of the play, she comes down from her room upstairs, veiled and dressed entirely in black, as if in mourning. She speaks primarily in monologues, seeming not to notice her family. In the last act, returning after spending the night away with Father Dewis, she has changed, perhaps symbolically, into a bright yellow dress, and her arms are full of yellow roses. She is slightly drunk and giddy, and she is more communicative than in the first act. At the end of the play, she returns to her room upstairs.
Tilden, their eldest son, in his late forties. He dresses plainly and has a burned-out expression. Apparently, he has suffered some psychological trauma, only vaguely alluded to but probably the result of either a trip to New Mexico (and thus perhaps related to his son Vince, who is on his way there and apparently comes from there) or his suggested incestuous relationship with Halie (and thus related to the buried child, his other son). During the play, Tilden’s primary action is to bring in armloads of vegetables from the backyard. This action, which he performs twice, prepares for the climactic scene at the end of the play, when he carries the freshly exhumed body of the buried child into the house.
Bradley, their next eldest son, an amputee. He is a big man with muscular arms and shoulders, developed from using crutches. His left leg is wooden, having been amputated above the knee, and he walks with an exaggerated, almost mechanical limp, accompanied by a squeaking sound of leather and metal from the harness and hinges of the false leg. At the end of the first act, he cuts off the hair of the sleeping Dodge, weakening him further, and eventually replaces him on the couch. By the end of the play, his leg has been taken away by Shelly, weakening him in turn, and he is replaced on the couch by Vince.
Vince, Tilden’s son, a musician about twenty-two years old. He is visiting his family after six years’ absence. At first, he is rejected by the family, but by the play’s end he has come to fit into their bizarre patterns of behavior and has inherited the family house (though perhaps not the family curse), symbolically replacing Dodge as the patriarch and taking over his position on the couch.
Shelly, Vince’s girlfriend, nineteen years old and beautiful. Unlike Vince, she at first seems to fit into the family and to be accepted by them. By the end of the play, having elicited the story of the buried child from Dodge and having witnessed Vince’s altered behavior, she rejects the role she has been forced into and leaves.
Father Dewis, a Protestant minister, a distinguished looking, gray-haired man in his sixties. He is evidently having an affair with Halie.
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