Curse of the Starving Class Characters
by Sam Shepard

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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Wesley Tate

Wesley Tate, the young son of a lower-middle-class, rural California family. Feeling strong ties to his family and to the land, Wesley maintains the farm after the others have given up. He sees the sale of the land to real estate developers as having significance far greater than the loss of a mere house. At times, Wesley loses patience with his family members, as evidenced by his lack of sympathy for his sister’s ruined 4-H project, to which he responds by urinating on her charts and suggesting that his sister do something truly useful. He is also contemptuous of his mother’s attorney friend, to whom he is very rude and accusatory. Although Wesley does not get along with his father, he does feel certain responsibilities toward his family. He cleans up the mess left after one of his father’s frequent drunken binges and begins to replace the door the old man has beaten down. Wesley also is aware of some inherited traits, especially his father’s passionate temper. Failing to experience the rebirth of spirit his father prescribes, Wesley dons his father’s discarded old clothes. Wesley and his mother are the only family members left at the end of the play.

Ella Tate

Ella Tate, Wesley’s mother. Coming from a higher-class background, Ella feels like an outsider among the members of her own family. She feels abandoned by her husband and fears that he might try to kill her in one of his drunken rages. Ella insensitively cooks the chicken that her daughter plans to use in an important 4-H project. She also fills her young daughter’s mind with an obsession about germs and with false information about the girl’s physical maturity. Longing for the more prestigious lifestyle of the rich, Ella has become involved with an attorney and plans to sell the property and run away to Europe. After returning from jail to visit her daughter, Ella sleeps on the kitchen table. When she awakes, both her husband and her daughter have left, but, confused by Wesley’s attire, she repeatedly calls her son by her husband’s name.

Emma Tate

Emma Tate, Wesley’s sister. Outspoken and rebellious, Emma reaches physical maturity on the day the play takes place. She is outraged that her mother has cooked the chicken she has raised and prepared for her 4-H project, so she begins to make plans to run away to Mexico. Emma, who is somewhat loyal to her father, does not like her mother’s attorney friend and tells him so. Emma is arrested for riding her horse through the bar her father frequents and shooting the place full of holes. She is released, however, when she makes sexual overtures to the police sergeant. Resolved to embark on a life of crime, Emma takes money and car keys from her mother’s purse and leaves just before the car explodes.

Weston Tate

Weston Tate, Wesley’s father. An alcoholic with a violent temper, Weston is unable to hold a steady job, continues to drive even though his license has been revoked, and is in debt to some rough characters. He secretly sells the property to the owner of the Alibi Club for fifteen hundred dollars. When the family refrigerator is empty, Weston simply buys a bag of artichokes. After passing out on the kitchen table, Weston awakes with a sense of being reborn. He uncharacteristically bathes and shaves, discards his dirty old clothes, and does the laundry and cooks breakfast for the family. Although Weston decides to stay and work the farm, Wesley reminds him that he is still in trouble and encourages him to flee to Mexico.


Taylor, an attorney who speculates in real estate. Taylor has already cheated Weston out of five hundred dollars by selling him a worthless piece of desert real estate; now he is taking advantage of his intimate relationship with Ella to purchase the Tate property without the permission of Weston, whom Taylor has had declared mentally incompetent.


Ellis, the owner of the Alibi Club. Wearing a shiny yellow shirt, tight pants, shiny shoes, many rings, and a gold...

(The entire section is 2,325 words.)