Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 943
Act I begins in May, 1968, in Charlie's childhood home after the funeral of his adoptive father, whom he calls Da. As he is sorting through his father's things, throwing many of them in the fire, his childhood friend Oliver, having missed the funeral, comes by to offer condolences. After Oliver leaves, the figure of Da enters as a ghost. Charlie's mother, now dead, also enters in a memory scene. In this memory, Charlie, who is seventeen and still unemployed, having just finished school six months earlier, is with his parents, who are awaiting a man called Drumm. They are hoping Drumm will offer Charlie a job. When Drumm arrives, Charlie is embarrassed by his father's displays of ignorance and his crude language and by his mother's explanation of his adoption. In embarrassment, Charlie leaves the house, but Drumm follows him outside, and as the two walk, he agrees to offer Charlie a job as a clerk
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Back in the kitchen, Charlie, in his present self, continues to converse with the memory of his father. He complains that Da even interfered with his attempt to lose his virginity. In a memory, Charlie, now nineteen and in college, is attempting to seduce Mary Tate, a young woman with a reputation of having sex with any young man who asks her. As Charlie makes a pass at Mary, his father walks up and begins talking with her. Because his father knows Mary's family, Charlie learns from the conversation that her father has abandoned her mother and her brothers and sisters. Upon hearing of these hardships, Charlie can no longer go through with his efforts to seduce Mary.
In a memory from an earlier time, Charlie recalls adoring his father, seeing him as an ‘‘Einstein.’’ Charlie, aged seven, takes a walk with his Da, now in his thirties and ‘‘in his prime.’’ As they walk, Charlie asks his father where his birth mother is, claiming that his aunt informed him that she is not where they have told him she is. Da responds with an explanation that is as false as the original explanation. As they walk toward home, Charlie tells Da that he loves him, to which Da responds, ‘‘Certainly you do. Why wouldn't you?’’
In a memory from Charlie's teen years, he sits in the kitchen writing a thank you letter to Nelson and Jeanette Jacobs, family acquaintances who have inquired about his job prospects. Charlie and his mother argue over what he should write in the letter until Charlie, in defiance, writes a brief, sarcastic note, which his mother insists on sending. Charlie storms out of the house to meet his friend Oliver at the billiard hall.
Act II begins with Charlie (his present self) and the Young Charlie talking in the kitchen with the ghost of Da. In a memory scene, Charlie, at age thirty, is being criticized by Drumm, for whom he has been working thirteen years. In the present time, Charlie talks with Da about how he treated his father in old age, after his mother died. Charlie first put Da, who was becoming senile, in a home for the elderly, which Da refers to as ‘‘the poorhouse,’’ and then, after Da punched a nurse, Charlie puts him in a private room of a psychiatric hospital.
In a another memory scene, Charlie recalls the time his father almost hit his mother. His mother comes home late one night, explaining that she ran into an old friend, Gretta Moore, who took her out for a drink. Da accuses her of having been out with Ernie Moore, Gretta's husband Charlie's mother retorts that he is simply jealous because she had preferred Ernie over him and had only ended up marrying him because her father wanted her to. At this, Da lunges at her with his fist but stops just before hitting her.
In the next memory, Da, now sixty-eight, is at the home of Mrs Prynn, for whose family he has worked as a gardener for fifty-four years. The Prynns are about to move to London and, for his years of service, give him only twenty-five pounds and a piece of junk art. Young Charlie is disgusted that his father is so subservient to Mrs. Prynn and so grateful for such a meager pension.
In another memory, Charlie is about to leave home to fly to Belgium and marry Peggy. Although he has invited his parents to his wedding, they claim they don't want to travel that far. Charlie is eager to get away from them and on with his life. In the following memory, Charlie's mother is dead. Da is in his eighties and going senile. Charlie is visiting him from London, where he now lives. In his senility, Da thinks that Charlie is his wife's father and reenacts the scene in which he asked her father for permission to marry her, knowing that she would not go against her father's wishes.
In the present time on the day of Da's funeral, Drumm, now seventy, comes by the house. He hands Charlie an envelope that contains his father's will and a package with the junk art from Mrs. Prynn. Drumm tells Charlie that his inheritance includes all of the money Charlie sent his father over the years, which his father had not spent but put in savings for him. When Drumm leaves, Charlie throws the junk art into the fire. He then leaves the house for good, locking the door behind him and insisting that the ghost of his father stay locked m the house. But Da is already outside and follows behind him, singing an old song.