Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Agnes, a handsome wife and mother in her late fifties. Haunted by the possibility of losing her mind, which she defines as a kind of “drifting,” whereby she would become a stranger in the world, she attempts to maintain order, a “delicate balance,” in her world. She deals with the emotional withdrawal of her husband and the “embarrassment” of her sister by taking the verbal initiative to judge and thereby control them. She comes to realize that her hold on reality depends more on them than she has been willing to admit, and that frightens her.


Tobias, her husband, a few years older. An emotionally repressed and withdrawn man, he covers his deepest fears with a mask of self-control and quiet, and he suppresses them with alcohol. Forced by Agnes to make a decision about whether Harry and Edna will stay, he breaks down under the weight of trying to be honest about how he really feels, not only about them but also about his own family. He has a hysterical fear of death and of being alone, and this allows him to tolerate demands of his family.


Claire, Agnes’ alcoholic younger sister. Called an ingrate and one of the walking wounded by Agnes, she is nevertheless the most honest person in the family. She does not hide her feelings or her dark side. She uses her drinking to annoy and embarrass Agnes; to amuse Tobias, with whom she might have had an affair; to...

(The entire section is 452 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A fine overview of Albee’s plays and career. Considers the influence of the Theater of the Absurd on Albee’s work.

Bigsby, C. W. E. Albee. Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver & Boyd, 1969. Identifies Albee’s liberal humanistic and existential concerns. An excellent analysis of Albee’s thought, with a perceptive discussion of A Delicate Balance.

Bigsby, C.W.E., ed. Edward Albee, 1975.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Edward Albee, 1987.

Hirsch, Foster. Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?, 1978.

Kolin, Philip C., ed. Conversations with Edward Albee, 1988.

Kolin, Philip C., and J. Madison Davis, eds. Critical Essays on Edward Albee, 1986.

McCarthy, Gerry. Edward Albee, 1987.

Paolucci, Anne. From Tension to Tonic: The Plays of Edward Albee. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. One of the most insightful studies available. Focuses on Albee’s use of language, especially metaphor and irony. Contains a chapter on A Delicate Balance.

Roudané, Matthew. Understanding Edward Albee. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. An excellent starting point for the study of Albee’s work. Traces the development of his affirmative existential vision.

Rutenberg, Michael E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest. New York: DBS, 1969. Written with Albee’s cooperation. Concentrates on political and social dimensions of Albee’s work. Contains two interviews and an interesting analysis of A Delicate Balance from a sociological point of view.

Stenz, Anita Maria. Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss, 1978.

Wasserman, Julian N., ed. Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, 1983.