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, 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...
(The entire section is 546 words.)