Come Back, Little Sheba

by William Inge

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 628

Doc Delaney

Doc Delaney, a chiropractor in a Midwestern city. This outwardly gentle, courteous, and patient man in his early forties seethes inside because of his frustrating life. He felt compelled to drop out of medical school about twenty years earlier and marry Lola because he had made her pregnant. Married to a woman who is his social and intellectual inferior, and disappointed in his ambitions and by the fact that Lola was rendered sterile by the botched delivery of their stillborn first child, Doc became an alcoholic who was nearly homicidal when intoxicated. He squandered all the money he had inherited and allowed his practice to go to ruin. For the past eleven months, he has belonged to Alcoholics Anonymous and is trying to rebuild his shattered life.

Lola Delaney

Lola Delaney, a housewife. Married to Doc at the age of eighteen, Lola has remained mentally an adolescent for the past twenty years. In contrast to her shy, introverted husband, she has no internal resources and is completely dependent on other people. She has let herself become fat, and she neglects her housekeeping, along with her personal appearance. At the age of eighteen, she had been strikingly attractive and much sought after by young men. Because this was the only area in which she ever experienced success and satisfaction, she has never gotten over her youthful illusions about romantic love. Her small lost dog, Little Sheba, symbolizes for her, on an unconscious level, her own lost youth and beauty, which she hopes somehow will come back to her.


Marie, a college student who boards with the Delaneys. At the age of eighteen or nineteen, she is pretty, cheerful, sprightly, and friendly, a ray of sunshine in this unhappy household. Both Doc and Lola project their fantasies onto this fairly ordinary girl. Doc sees her as pure and almost saintly. Lola sees her quite simply as herself at that same age. Marie’s passionate relationship with Turk, in which Lola takes a strong vicarious interest, triggers Doc’s repressed rage and leads directly to the violent climax of the play. Through their emotional involvement with Marie, both Doc and Lola eventually come to realize their mistaken illusions about the glamour of youth.


Turk, a college athlete, good-looking, aggressive, muscular, and narcissistic. Although only nineteen or twenty years old, he has been in the military service and has acquired a superficial sophistication. His attitude toward young women is predatory; he is interested only in sex. Although Marie is strongly attracted to him on this level, she knows he is not a suitable prospect as a spouse. Doc hates him because he is sensual and uninhibited, everything Doc is not. When Doc realizes that the two young students are sleeping together under his roof, he gets roaring drunk and threatens to kill Turk as well as Lola, whom he blames for acting as a pander in the illicit affair.


Bruce, Marie’s fiancé, who lives in another city. This intelligent, ambitious, and well-mannered young man comes from an upper-middle-class family and is already making headway in the business world. Marie regards him as a good catch, but he does not fire her blood the way Turk does. When she and Bruce go off to get married at the end of the play, it is clear that they will have a conventional middle-class marriage without any physical excitement.

Mrs. Coffman

Mrs. Coffman, a housewife, the Delaneys’ next-door neighbor. This middle-aged mother of seven children serves as a contrast to the slovenly, irresponsible Lola. Mrs. Coffman speaks with a German accent and has the hardworking, no-nonsense attitude often associated with members of that ethnic group. She is kindhearted, however, and proves helpful to Lola in her hour of need.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1057

Ed Anderson
With Elmo, Ed is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Lola calls him frantic with worry when she discovers the bottle of alcohol is missing. She again calls him when Doc returns home drunk. It is Ed and Elmo who take Doc to the hospital.

Bruce is Marie's hometown, clean-cut fiancé. He provides the catalyst that finally moves Lola to clean house and prepare dinner when she eagerly anticipates his arrival When he finally arrives, Bruce asks Marie to marry and move away with him.

Mrs. Coffman
Mrs. Coffman is the Delaney's German neighbor. In the first act, she has little time for gossip with Lola and tells her that she needs to keep busy. They are not friends, as is evidenced when Lola wonders if Mrs. Coffman might have killed Sheba. But when Mrs. Coffman hears Doc attack Lola in Act II, she goes next door to check on her neighbor and offer comfort. By the final scene a friendship is forming between the two women, and Mrs. Coffman again returns to ask Lola to accompany her family to the relay games.

Doc Delaney
Doc is a chiropractor. He had planned to go to medical school, but when Lola became pregnant, he married her and settled for chiropractic school instead. Doc is an alcoholic who has been sober for one year; he relies on Alcoholics Anonymous for support. He is disillusioned and disappointed at the loss of his only child, who died at birth, the loss of his medical career, and the loss of his wife's youth and beauty. Doc views Mane as the daughter he never had. His image of her is one of innocence, but he lacks any fundamental ability to see her as she really is. Doc's denial of Marie's sexuality leads to yet another disappointment when he realizes that she is, m fact, having a sexual affair with Turk, although she has a boyfriend back home

Doc's sobriety is fragile, and to cope with yet another disillusionment m his life, he once again returns to alcohol for support. When he returns home the next morning, Doc lashes out at Lola, calling her a slut and accusing her of being a fat and lazy burden who cost him the dreams of his youth. Doc grabs a hatchet and tries to attack Lola, but he is too drunk to do any harm. After a stay in the hospital to dry out, Doc again returns to Lola. In the final scene, he appears to have come to terms with his life as it is.

Lola Delaney
Lola's life is as full of disappointments as her husband's. But rather than drink to deal with depression, Lola sleeps excessively, often not waking until noon. She was pregnant when she and Doc married, and to avoid gossip, the couple allowed a midwife to deliver the baby. The infant died, and Lola was unable to conceive again. Lola's lost youth and beauty is symbolized by her lost dog, Sheba. Sheba is as irretrievable as Lola's beauty and Doc's dreams.

Lola has become fat and slovenly, and, m her boredom, she constantly accosts her neighbors and delivery people for conversation. She has no interest in housework or cooking, and instead, seeks escape through voyeurism. She encourages her young boarder's affair with Turk, leaving them alone and establishing opportunities for the two lovers to meet and then spying on them. Lola is so interested m Marie's love life that she secretly reads a telegram that announces the arrival of the girl's fiancé, Bruce It is unclear exactly where Lola's fantasies will lead, but she cleans the house to a nearly unrecognizable state and prepares a special dinner in anticipation of Brace's arrival. Doc correctly understands Lola's role m what he considers to be Marie's fall from innocence, and his return to alcohol and his attack upon her appears to shock Lola into reassessing her life.

Elmo Huston
Like Ed Anderson, Elmo is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He helps Ed take Doc to the city hospital.

Marie is the Delaney's boarder. She is an art student and serves differing roles for both Doc and Lola. Doc envisions Marie as virginal and identifies her with the Ave Maria he hears playing on the radio. But Lola, who was once a beauty queen and popular with boys, identifies with Mane as a younger version of herself. Marie serves as the catalyst for the action in the play. Her fall from innocence results in Doc's return to drinking. She uses Turk to alleviate her boredom as she waits for Bruce to marry her. In the play's conclusion, she quite merrily runs off to marry Bruce, completely unaware of the near tragedy she has caused. At the time this play was written, Marie's open sexuality and her use of Turk as a sexual diversion would have been quite shocking to audiences.

The milkman is another of Lola's objects of attention. Although she has been asked to leave a note telling him what she needs delivered, Lola repeatedly tries to engage him in conversation. It's a harmless flirtation for Lola, but causes a small delay for the milkman. However, he is charmed by her eagerness and clearly warms up to the short conversation.

The postman seems genuinely sympathetic to Lola's loneliness. He takes the tune to come in and drink a glass of water with her and lingers long enough to exchange a few words. But when Lola tells him that her husband is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he seems almost uncomfortable with receiving this confidence. But after Lola presents him with a small toy for his grandchild, the postman cheerfully tells her that he will write her a letter if no one else does.

Turk is a stereotypical athletic stud. He throws the javelin, a clearly phallic symbol that reveals his purpose in the play. He poses for the art students, and Lola is excited at the prospect of seeing him nearly unclothed as he poses for Marie. He is interested in only one thing, and most of his time on stage is spent playing sexual games with Marie. Their banter is heavy with sexual import. Turk's departure in the morning after a night spent with Marie is witnessed by Doc and leads to his fall from sobriety.

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