Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sarah Kahn

Sarah Kahn, a small, fiery Jewish woman of European origin, thirty-seven years old at the opening of the play. She lives in the East End of London. She is the wife of Harry, whom she constantly nags, and the mother of Ada and Ronnie. Two features immediately characterize her: her warmhearted but unsentimental dynamism and her total commitment to communism. This commitment is less ideological than intuitive, being based on a sense of community and the need to care, an extension of her strong sense of wider family. It is because of this feeling that she is the one figure who does not become disillusioned as the play progresses. Although personal tragedy overtakes her during the twenty-year span of the play (particularly her husband’s physical and mental collapse and the breakup of her own family and the Jewish East End community), she never loses her warmth or her convictions. In this loosely structured chronicle play, she is the one character who holds the play together, as the matriarch in a matriarchal society and the true essence of socialism: a caring heart that can withstand political oppression, crass materialism, and disillusion. She alone remains unbroken.

Harry Kahn

Harry Kahn, a Jewish member of the working class, thirty-five years old at the beginning of the play. He is something of a thinker. Although he apparently shares his wife’s beliefs, he is almost her complete opposite: physically weak, timid, and a compulsive liar. Their incompatibility leads to frequent quarrels that finish with Harry feeling defeated and guilty. In act 2, he suffers a partial stroke, which makes employment difficult; he more or less gives up. By act 3, he has had a second stroke and is a physical wreck, helpless and incontinent. the play suggests that his physical weakness is an outward sign of his emotional and spiritual weakness.

Ada Kahn

Ada Kahn, Sarah...

(The entire section is 792 words.)