Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 833
The character Dan is arguably the most restless and least satisfied in this quartet of lovers. When he first meets Alice, he is in a relationship with a woman named Ruth, who is discussed several times in the play but never seen. Despite this, he easily pursues his attraction to...
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- Critical Essays
The character Dan is arguably the most restless and least satisfied in this quartet of lovers. When he first meets Alice, he is in a relationship with a woman named Ruth, who is discussed several times in the play but never seen. Despite this, he easily pursues his attraction to Alice and agrees when she suggests he play hooky. The next time we see Dan, he is a year and a half into his relationship with Alice and already shows signs of discontentment. In his first meeting with Anna, he becomes instantly attracted to her. His infatuation with him makes him careless and he hits on Anna when Alice is in the next room. His dissatisfaction is directly connected to his other defining trait: obsession. When he finally has Anna, he cannot get over her indiscretion with Larry. Furthermore, when Larry admits that he slept with Alice, Dan ruins his relationship with her by making her confess something he already knew. The play also hints that Dan has a difficult relationship with his parents. He is indifferent to his father, even when he dies, and Anna tells Larry that Dan cries for his mother when he sleeps. The play suggests a pattern of instability in all of Dan’s personal relationships.
Anna’s most definitive trait is a deep sense of melancholy. At the beginning of the play, she is separated from her husband. Despite her verbal rebuttals of Dan’s advances, she kisses him. When Larry first meets her, she is sitting alone in at the Aquarium on her birthday photographing strangers. Larry seems to understand her best; late in the play he tells Dan that she is a “depressive.” He thinks that Anna is unhappy and continues to make choices that hurt her as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. He also tells her in the last scene not to become “a sad person” when he discovers she is living alone with a dog. Anna’s self-loathing makes her put up with abusive behavior because she thinks she deserves it. We find out that a past lover had been physically abusive and Larry degrades her in bed. Ironically, she is so guilt-ridden about her affair with Dan that she never chastises Larry for having a fling during his trip to New York. She also agrees to have sex with Larry in exchange for his signing their divorce papers. Anna’s self-destructiveness ultimately leaves her alone at the end of the play.
Larry is the anti-Dan: base, hot-tempered, plain spoken and ultimately honest. He is an alpha male in the Staley Kowalski vein: aggressively sexual but almost childlike in his sensitive moments. Larry’s first, brief scene hints at his nature when Alice’s allure makes him do a double-take and stop to help her. Throughout the play, he uses the most graphically sexual dialogue of all of the characters. Dan is able to lure him in the chat room scene with pornographic descriptions of sex. Anna also admits that Larry treats her “like a whore.” When Larry goes to the strip club where Alice works, he demands that she strip for him when she does not give him the “intimacy” he so desires. Larry is aware of his own misogynistic tendencies and even refers to himself as a “caveman.” Despite this, he loves Anna and does not lie to her when he has a one-night stand. This honesty is also the reason that Alice reveals the truth about herself to him. Although the other characters are often more sophisticated than he is, Larry sees himself and the people around most clearly.
Alice is the most enigmatic character in the play because she withholds so much of herself from the other people in the play. In the last scene, we find out that she has been living under an assumed name (she picked it up from a memorial in the park) and that her real name is Jane Jones, which she told Larry in the strip club scene. Marber does not illuminate the reasons for her deception, but provides hints throughout the play. She tells Anna she loves Dan because he “buries” her—hinting that the nondescript Dan allows her to hide most completely. Larry also tells Dan that he thinks the scar on her leg in the shape of a question mark may be an act of self-mutilation. Alice claims her parents died in a car crash, and the police are unable to locate them when Alice dies, but the truth is never stated explicitly. Like Larry, Alice loves someone deeply who does not return her affections with the same intensity. In the end, she leaves Dan when she realizes he is only capable of loving her on his own terms. When he hits her, it confirms that he is punishing her for his own inconstant love. Her death leaves the other characters and the audience wondering if it was a careless accident or a deliberate choice to finally obliterate her identity.