Act I Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

Act I
Harvey is a play about forty-seven-year-old Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend is an invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey. Dowd and his rabbit friend are well-known and liked in the taverns around town, but his relatives, who have come to live with him, are embarrassed by his behavior and try to have him committed to an insane asylum. The first scene opens with Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons, and her daughter, Myrtle Mae, throwing a luncheon for the older society matrons of the town. They count on Dowd being out, but he comes home suddenly, talking to Harvey and holding doors for him, and, worse, introducing him to the ladies at the party. As the party clears out, Veta swears that he will not disgrace the family again, and she asks him to wait in the den, which he does happily, while she goes to make arrangements for him to be committed.

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Scene II takes place at the mental institution, Chumley’s Rest. Nurse Ruth Kelly, who is young and good-looking, interviews Veta about her brother, who is waiting outside in the taxi cab. When Elwood comes in, Kelly has an orderly take him upstairs. When the psychiatrist on duty, Dr. Sanderson, interviews Veta, he gets the impression that she is the one who has hallucinated Harvey (she admits to having seen him sometimes), and so he has her locked up. When he finds out that Elwood Dowd has been locked up, he assumes that a mistake has been made, and Dowd is brought down to the office, where Sanderson and Kelly apologize profusely, fearing that the sanitarium will be sued. Dowd, oblivious to the fact that he had been incarcerated in the first place, invites them both to have drinks with him later.

After Dowd leaves the scene (to explore the sanitarium where he has been told his sister is to be committed), Dr. Chumley, the esteemed director of the facility, enters and discovers that Dowd has left a hat with holes cut in the top. The hospital staff exits, then Dowd returns, just as Dr. Chumley’s wife, Betty, enters, and he tells her that he is looking for Harvey, explaining that Harvey is a pooka—a mythological spirit. After he leaves, she tells the others that he was looking for Harvey, and they realize that it was he, not Veta, who had delusions. They understand that the hat is Harvey’s, that the holes are for his rabbit ears. At the end of the scene, Wilson, the orderly, looks up ‘‘pooka’’ in the dictionary and reads out loud the definition that somehow, mysteriously, appears there: ‘‘A wise but mischievous creature. Very fond of rum-pots, crackpots, and how are you Mr. Wilson?’’

Act II and III Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 932

Act II
Scene I of Act II takes place in the library of the Dowd house. Myrtle is having the house appraised, planning to sell it as soon as Dowd is committed. Judge Gaffney has come to the house because he received a call from Veta, who was frantic. Veta arrives, distraught, telling of being handled roughly at the sanitarium when they tried to commit her, accusing the people who run the place of having unnatural interest in sex, and instructing the judge to sue them. Wilson and Dr. Chumley arrive from the sanitarium, looking for Dowd, with a list of bars and firehouses that they have been to in their search. When Judge Gaffney and Dr. Chumley leave together, discussing Veta’s impending lawsuit, Wilson and Myrtle flirt. They go off to the kitchen together, and Dowd comes in. He sees a flat parcel that Myrtle brought out of the garage to show Judge Gaffney, as evidence of David’s madness: a painting of himself and a large rabbit, in a polka-dot collar and red necktie. Putting the picture on the mantle, in front of his mother’s portrait, he leaves. Veta and Dr. Chumley enter, and he asks about the...

(The entire section contains 1388 words.)

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