Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402
Kathy (Kath), a dowdy Englishwoman in early middle age. An outwardly respectable symbol of bourgeois life and values, Kath is a woman with an illegitimate child in her past. She lives with her father in a small home, and her passion for the young lodger she takes in forms one of the play’s central story lines. Although she makes frequent protestations regarding her own morality and honor, she is at heart selfish and easily able to rationalize her less-than-respectable actions. This attitude typifies the play’s portrait of the British middle class.
Mr. Sloane, an attractive, ruthless, and utterly amoral young man. Sloane is the catalyst for the play’s action, arriving as a lodger in Kath’s home in the opening scene and establishing volatile relationships with each of the other characters. Although his background is mysterious and probably criminal, he clearly is a member of the working class and, therefore, an intruder in the social norm of Kath’s household. A figure of menace and violence throughout the play, Sloane appears to be an avaricious manipulator, successfully exploiting the other characters’ weaknesses for his own ends. The story’s conclusion finds him caught in a trap of his own device.
Ed (Eddie), Kath’s selfish, bullying brother. Ed is a pompous, greedy hypocrite with a keen interest in young men. He is trying to take control of his father’s finances when the play opens. His initial misgivings over his sister’s new lodger vanish when Sloane appears agreeable to Ed’s broad hints of a close future relationship. Ed, more than any of the play’s other characters, makes a constant show of outward concern for notions of morality and social convention, yet he, like Sloane and Kath, is thoroughly unscrupulous in matters of self-interest.
Kemp (Dadda), Kath and Ed’s father, an elderly pensioner. Kemp is the play’s true victim, an old man saddled with two greedy children and a vicious young intruder whose presence eventually leads to Kemp’s death. From the time of their first meeting, Kemp sees the menace that Sloane represents, but his son’s and daughter’s shared attraction to the young man leaves him at Sloane’s mercy. His death at Sloane’s hands provides the means by which Kath and Ed finally are able to trap Sloane into doing their bidding.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160
Sloane is the sexually opportunistic, lower-middle-class young man who comes to the home of Kath and her father as a lodger, accidentally kills Kemp at the end of Act II, and ends up as an alternating sexual partner to the blackmailing brother and sister duo of Ed and Kath, living with one for six months and then the other for the next six months. A handsome, amoral, self-serving, aggressive, and potentially violent young man without much education but with considerable street smarts, Sloane is capable of turning nearly any situation to his own advantage. He either achieves his greatest victory at the end of the play or suffers his ultimate defeat, depending on how one interprets the play's last scene. As Lahr reported in Prick up Your Ears, Orton "saw himself as the physical prototype for Sloane," the most notable clue being the careful attribution to Sloane of the "delicate skin" that Orton was so vainly proud of in himself.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 183
Ed vies with his sister Kath to be Sloane's sexual partner and ends up sharing him with her. Mean-spirited, self-centered, pompous, and domineering, Ed is the son of the aging Kemp and part of the mysterious "business" that employs Sloane as a chauffeur after Ed becomes sexually attracted to him. As a young man Ed was very active in sports, which his father admired, but a rift occurred one day between Ed and his father shortly after Ed's seventeenth birthday, when Kemp discovered Ed doing something unmentionable in his bedroom.
Now barely on speaking terms with his father, Ed arrives in the first act to procure Kemp's signature, presumably on papers that would commit his father to the kind of old-age home in which Orton's own father, William Orton, was eventually placed. When Kemp is accidentally killed by Sloane at the end of Act II, Ed shows no remorse for the death of his father and throughout Act III seems only interested in preserving his sexual partnership with Sloane. Of all the characters, Ed asserts the most hypocritical concern for high moral values.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
Kath competes with her brother Ed for Sloane's sexual favors. A frumpy, middle-aged woman with a raging sexual appetite, she lures Sloane into her home as a prospective lodger and then seduces him, as she apparently had seduced at least one man (Ed's "mate" Tommy) before. Kath then becomes pregnant by Sloane, just as she did by Tommy. Starved for affection, randy but determined to put on a coy demeanor, Kath refuses to see herself as she really is, pretending to be young, innocent, and respectable. In the case of Kemp's death, she comically and pathetically denies the reality of her father's condition as long as she possibly can. Superficially comical, Kath is perhaps, deep down, quite as cruel, vicious, and heartless as her brother. Orton's biographer, John Lahr, explained that Kath is ironically modeled on Orton's mother, Elsie, who professed an abhorrence of human sexuality and was herself, like Kath, the possessor of a complete set of false teeth.
Kemp is the elderly father of Kath and Ed, the pathetic occupant, with Kath, of the household that Sloane joins. Hard of hearing and weak of eyesight, Kemp recognizes Sloane as the murderer of his former boss—a photographer who picked up the hitchhiking Sloane, photographed him, and then took Sloane for a burglar as Sloane got up in the night to destroy the incriminating photos. For the last twenty years Kemp has not been on consistent speaking terms with his son, Ed, but he breaks his silence in an attempt to accuse Sloane as a murderer and the culprit in Kath's pregnancy.
Stubborn and ignorant of his own vulnerability, Kemp challenges Sloane at the end of Act II, refuses to accept Sloane's appeal for silence, and dies after Sloane beats him. Kemp is probably the most "decent" character in the play and its only genuine victim. He is modeled after Orton's own father, who also was almost blind and referred to as "Dadda."
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