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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Poet

The play’s protagonist, a young poet, is not named, a stylistic choice that highlights his nature as incomplete, engaged in a constant search for itself throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, his lifeless, almost inanimate condition sets him in sharp contrast to Lustys’ vibrancy. He is repulsed by the prospect of visiting the Lustys in their basement yet is convinced by the invisible girl in the next room to go down and confront the couple and the realities they represent. He appears to have some degree of moral principle, in that after Will’s death he assists Mrs. Lusty in carrying her dead husband upstairs, and he also takes responsibility for inviting the older man’s family to the funeral. But he is insensitive in his rejection of Mrs. Lusty and, throughout the play, seems generally more interested in his quest for self-discovery than in the feelings of those around him.

Alma Lusty

Mrs. Lusty is at once seductive and gruesome, enthralling and horrible. Both in body and in personality she shows the signs of a life spent in the pursuit of all sorts of material pleasures, pleasures for which she still longs. She is somewhat muddled in how she relates to the young poet, imagining him as a replacement for her dead son at one moment and in the next perceiving him as her former lover Fred, a confusion that has incestuous undertones. In her genuine remorse for Will’s death she evokes the audience’s sympathy, and in her decision to serve ham at his wake as if it was the chief of luxuries, she demonstrates how limited her experience has been of the world she wishes to encompass and consume in its entirety.

Will Lusty

Will’s total immobility signifies that even prior to his death, the effects of material consumption, namely of sugar while working in a confectionary shop, have effectively brought about his termination as a physical being. But his obvious intelligence, and the simplicity with which he delivers his statements, lends him a presence of solidity and authority. Unlike the young poet, who is tortured by not knowing himself, or Mrs. Lusty, who is tortured by a desire to consume and internalize anything and everything she can, Will is able to nurture himself on very basic realities, such as the reality of existing. When he dies, Will remains the play’s dominant object, with his corpse dominating the other characters just as he had in life.

The Girl

The unseen girl exerts a powerful influence over the young poet, being able to convince him to descend to the basement and confront the Lustys, and later, though not directly, to flee from the seductions of Mrs. Lusty. His attraction to her is partly romantic but partly to do with his identity, in that she is what he lacks in himself to make him “complete.” The wall through which the pair communicate constitutes a barrier that the young poet has established in his own mind between him and the other part of himself that the girl represents.

The Four Relations

Cartoonish in their evil and similarity to one another, these four relations torment Alma and are ultimately dismissed by the Young Man.

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