Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Robert Smith

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Robert Smith, known as Yank, the chief coal stoker on a ship bound for Europe. A Neanderthal type with a strong back and hairy, powerful arms, Yank is a man of apparent personal confidence who sees himself as doing the real work of the world, in contrast with the ineffectual, wealthy tourists who travel above deck in first class. He is an honest laborer, proud of his vitality and usefulness in the world of industry, sure that he “belongs” in a way the idle rich never could. His pride is crushed, however, when Mildred Douglas, an empty-headed society social worker, sees him at work in the hold and calls him a beast. Thwarted in his attempts at revenge on her for this insult, he goes to his death in the cage of the Central Park Zoo ape that he has come to see as his brother.

Mildred Douglas

Mildred Douglas, the daughter of the president of the board of directors of the shipping lines and a passenger on Yank’s ship. A delicate, haughty twenty-year-old, Mildred has dabbled in social work in the slums of New York City, almost as a voyeur looking with fascination at how the poor survive. She exhibits a certain vacuity in the face of life; she is stubborn, unfeeling, and even cruel. By flirting with the ship’s stewards and through outright lies, she gets permission to see the stokers at work in the hold, only to faint with horror at the sight of Yank’s blackened, sweaty body and his menacing glance in response to her screams.


Aunt, a traveling companion to Mildred. She is a pompous, fatuous dowager, pretentious in dress and actions. Her demeaning comments serve to goad Mildred on in her foolish demand to observe the stokers at work.


Paddy, a fellow stoker. He is an old sailor, yearning for the bygone days of sailing ships, when men stood tall in the clean wind and sun rather than huddled below decks shoveling dusty coal to feed the raging fires of the hellish furnaces.


Long, another stoker. Like Yank, Long is angered at the insult of being exhibited before Mildred as a lower-class social phenomenon. He accompanies Yank to upper Fifth Avenue in an attempt to convince him that Mildred, on whom Yank is so eager to have vengeance, is no more than a representative of the entire class of the callous wealthy and that it is the class that he must fight rather than the individual.

Second Engineer

Second Engineer, a young officer on Yank’s ship. Having been forced into taking Mildred on the tour of the ship’s stokehold by her lies to the captain, he is witness to her crushing treatment of Yank when she calls him a hairy beast.

Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World

Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor organizer concerned with fair wages and good working conditions for the common laborer. Yank approaches him with a plan to sabotage the Douglas steel plant as an act of revenge on Mildred Douglas. The secretary rejects his plan forcefully. Once again, Yank is shown that he does not “belong,” even among the common laborers with whom he so closely identifies himself.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

Yank is a foot soldier in the industrial revolution, a fireman (one who tends the massive furnaces that power the ship) who boasts that he loves the hellish heat of the stokehole in which he works. He is a caricature of masculinity, the ultimate macho man—he disdains anything soft or "sissy" and makes fun of anyone he sees as being less than his ideal of a strong man. It is his physical strength that sustains him, the only thing on which he can depend, his only source of pride.

Yank starts the play feeling superior to others because of his physical prowess, though he slowly comes to realize that this strength makes him seem like an animal. When he...

(The entire section contains 1256 words.)

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Critical Essays