Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 743
Woman Two, and
Woman Three, who are on stage as the play begins, clustered together to suggest a plant form while a voiceover tape talks about one-celled creatures floating in the sea. Woman One says she is Margaret Fuller, the noted nineteenth century feminist, and that she accepts the universe. The other two women in unison reply that, as the nineteenth century philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, you had better accept, for life must live while it can. In a later scene, Woman One is angry; she and Woman Two beat Woman Three. They appear again in the final scene, as they singly or in twos or threes repeat the words “bodies,” “bellies,” and “eggs in bellies” as they touch their breasts and sides and stomachs. They end by turning their backs to the audience as they ask if “eggies in our bellies” are enough. Here, as throughout the play, they imply that there is more to women than their sexual or reproductive functions. For most of the play, these three characters assume the roles of other women. Sometimes the roles are specified—in the second scene, for example, Woman One becomes Sophie—but usually the scenes shift abruptly without the directions saying which woman plays which role. This adds to the thematic suggestion that society often sees women as alike or as merely fulfilling roles rather than being individuals.
Sophie, an elderly woman behind a counter in a Brooklyn delicatessen with her sister Esther. A young girl comes in to buy beer. The girl is in a hurry, but Sophie keeps looking at her hair and wanting to touch it because it reminds her of her mother’s hair and of her own when she was young. Sophie regrets the loss of her sense of herself as attractive to men the way her mother had been. At first the girl is sympathetic, but when Esther begins a mocking refrain of Sophie’s woes, the girl joins in. Even Sophie joins the lament, and the three women stroke one another’s hair until the grief becomes so strong that the girl feels suffocated and flings the others away.
Nancy, a young woman originally from Oklahoma who is visiting her friend Sally in a New York apartment. She is worried about Sally’s relationship with an abusive former lover. Nancy is drinking heavily and thinks her life is falling apart. She has helped her sister through a divorce and was the family member who had to settle her grandfather’s estate. Her father drinks too much and has had a heart attack. Her mother is dying of bone cancer.
Mrs. Tweed and
Mrs. Watermelon, two old ladies in a nursing home. Mrs. Tweed is more conventional and tries to be stoic, thinking that the days go by endlessly, but Mrs. Watermelon is angry and tired of her confined nonlife. A nurse comes in with a tray of food for them, but she has no sympathy for their condition and does not see them as fellow human beings.
Inez, three call girls who are in their apartment dressing and putting on makeup before they go to work. They continually bicker and complain about one another. Inez claims to have more work experience with men and threatens to tell their pimp, Ricky, that the other two are not giving him enough of the money they make. Momo says she is sick of the other two ganging up on her, but each of them turns her anger and frustration on the other two.
Ma, two young women and their mother washing dishes at a tenement sink. Sue is angry about a magazine article that opposes birth control. Sak tells her she should not be taking birth control pills and that she will burn in hell for disagreeing with the priests. Ma does not want to hear the discussion. When Sue keeps defending her position that not all eggs and sperm can possibly become babies anyway and that men should not be the ones to decide about birth control, Ma disowns her as her daughter and tells her to pack her things and get out. Sue says she will go but that she does not need to pack anything, because according to the priests all she needs is the eggs inside her anyway.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1037
Esther appears in the grocery store section. She is the sister of Sophie. She is a middle-aged woman who tends to criticize her sister for being obsessed with her looks. She joins with the young girl in a mournful hum to lament the passage of time and the onslaught of old age.
Felicia is a prostitute who continually argues with Momo. She is the one who says ‘‘Calm down, mother,’’ referring to Inez, an older prostitute. Felicia discovers money that Momo has stashed away and threatens to tell the madam of the house. She also tells Inez to spank her for being bad.
Girl is the young woman who tries to buy a sixpack of beer in the grocery store section. Her hair reminds Sophie of her mother’s hair. She allows Sophie to touch her hair and suggests that maybe Sophie was allergic to the anesthetic the doctors gave her. She joins with Esther in a mournful hum until she cannot stand it any more and pushes Sophie and Esther away.
Inez is an older prostitute who is responsible for Felicia and Momo. Felicia refers to her as ‘‘mother,’’ but it is unclear if there really is a blood relationship between them.
Ma is the mother of Sue and Sak in the last section of the play. She is conservative and a true believer in her faith, which disallows the use of contraception. She sides with her daughter Sak when Sue makes known that she is on the pill, then she tells Sue to leave.
Momo is the least experienced of the three prostitutes. She argues with Felicia. She also has stashed away money without paying the ‘‘house’’ because she says she needs a vacation. In the end, she joins Felicia in telling Inez to spank her for being bad.
Nancy is a Midwestern woman who arrives at her sister’s New York apartment to help her cele brate her new independence. Nancy has previously helped Sally get out of a bad marriage. Nancy refers to herself as the ‘‘old bulwark of the family.’’ She is the calm one in the midst of family crises, but with her mother’s imminent death, Nancy fears that she is falling apart.
Nurse appears in the section with Mrs. Tweed and Mrs. Watermellon, two patients at a nursing home. Nurse is very mechanical in her care of the two elderly women and is made fun of because of her lack of compassion.
Sak appears in the last section of the play. She is Sue’s sister. She is conservative like her mother and a bit naïve about sexuality. She tells her mother that Sue has been having sex and is thus responsible for Sue being told to leave the house.
Sally has just moved into a new apartment after having left an abusive husband. She is Nancy’s sister and acknowledges that she could not have gained her freedom without her sister’s help. Nancy describes Sally as soft. She often gives in to men, even if they have hurt her. Sally also gives her father the benefit of the doubt when her sister states that their father has faked a heart attack.
Sophie works at a grocery store and is stunned by a customer who comes in to buy some beer. The young woman has hair just like Sophie’s mother, and Sophie laments the loss not only of her mother but also of her own youthful beauty. Sophie’s sister, Esther, refers to her as having been previously arrogant about her looks.
Sue claims that she has been born out of her time, in contrast to her mother and her sister Sak, whom she says are three hundred years behind the times. Sue practices birth control despite the dictates of her church and magazine articles she reads written by men. She is sexually active and does not want to have any children. She claims that every woman practices birth control in one form or another because no woman gives birth to every egg that she carries in her ovaries.
Mrs. Tweed is a patient in a nursing home. When Mrs. Watermellon refers to her menstrual cycle, Mrs. Tweed tells her that she should not talk of such things and threatens to call her family and have her committed. She also ridicules the nurse, referring to the cereal she is eating as consisting of worms.
Mrs. Watermellon is an outspoken elderly woman who lives in a nursing home. She tells Mrs. Tweed that she knows the secret of the beginning of each day, a secret that exists in her heart. When Mrs. Tweed says she is going to call her family and have Mrs. Watermellon committed, Mrs. Watermellon reminds her that she already is committed.
Woman One plays various roles, taking on other named characters at times. She is only specifi- cally pointed out in the beginning when she announces that she is Margaret Fuller, a reference to an early pioneer of the feminist movement; and again, later in the play, when she tells the audience that she wants to hit something; and, intermittently, as part of a chorus.
Like the other nondescript women, Woman Two plays many different roles. Under the title of Woman Two, she makes a reference to Carlyle in the opening of the play, announcing that Woman One had better accept the universe. Later, she talks to the audience and tells them that she wants to get to the point where she can throw negative emotions back to the people who try to put them on her. She often joins the other two women in chorus.
Woman Three also plays various roles and is only identified as Woman Three when she tells the audience that they should list every detail of their lives in the hope that they will eventually make contact with someone. She is then knocked down on the floor and remains there through one of the sections, then rises and chants about her girlhood being all flowers. She often takes part in chorus with the other two women.