Last Updated on October 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
A great, damp, crumbling house, where people are living.
In this description of the play’s setting, the imagery of death and decay is evoked in contrast to the notion of people living their lives. The fact that these “people” are not initially elaborated on has the effect of foregrounding the house as an image in an audience’s mind. They come to imagine the people as contained, perhaps as swallowed within the vast spaces of the house’s interior.
Will: He’s a poet.
Alma: He’s a blooming corpse.
Will’s response to his wife’s musings as to the protagonist upstairs, who “lies and sleeps” as if he is ill, is intended as an explanation. Such behavior, he seems to intimate, can be excused when it is considered that their guest is a poet, traditionally associated with melodramatic introspection; however, his wife’s cutting response shows up the limits of this stereotype. A poet he might be, yet the protagonist is at this point in the play little more than a corpse, possessed of no vibrant impulses whatsoever.
The Poet: Very close now. But I thought you might tell me how I could come closer.
The Girl: That’s something which can’t be taught.
Here the notion that the unseen girl is an unincorporated aspect of the protagonist’s mind is given weight. The idea that, after his frantic deliberations, the protagonist has become closer than ever to her indicates that he is on the verge of discovering that aspect of himself that will lead to completion. This proximity is mirrored by his physical proximity to her, being in the next room. Moreover, her insistence that learning how to become close to her “can’t be taught” suggests that the protagonist must discover for himself the means to get to her, that no external entity can advise him to this end.
How I used to hate hearing the spit crackling in the bowl, as if Will was doing it on purpose. Will did everything on purpose.
In this speech of Mrs. Lusty's, a contrast is produced between the now deceased Will, whose life had been lived with deliberation and intention, and the protagonist, whose life until that point had been spent in skepticism and uncertainty as to his purpose. Will’s life had been defined by small, mean, unsavory activities, such as the above example, while the poet has spent his years in lofty deliberations. Nonetheless, Will appears—both in death and in life—to have been a more solid and complete character than his younger counterpart.
We never loved the butcher, or the baker, or the man who reads the gas meter.
This quote is the response of Alma’s relatives to her suggestion that they lack the capacity to feel intense emotions such as “love,” to “rape life” in the way that she can. Her relatives portray the intensity with which she engages in life as vicious, accusing her of having been unfaithful to her husband on multiple occasions while he was alive. These accusations they subsequently underpin by pointing out the full glass and chair that Alma has left for the protagonist. While their suspicions seem born out by Alma’s later efforts to seduce the protagonist, an audience is led to sympathize with her due to her intimation that Will was always been as mild-mannered as his relatives implied.