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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374

The play is set in the home of an unnamed family during a few nighttime hours. The parents, three daughters, a newborn baby, and the father’s father all live in a spacious chateau, but the action takes place in the sitting room, which most of the characters enter at the outset. As they discuss their concern about the health of the mother and infant, they wait for the father’s sister, a nun, and the doctors, to arrive.

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Initial conversations are concerned with the weather, such as whether it is nice enough to sit outside in the garden or it is too damp from the recent rain. The blind grandfather’s preference wins out, indicating his controlling role in the family. He also suggests that any untoward event might occur outside. The other discussion concerns the mother’s health; the Father thinks she is improving, but the Grandfather disagrees. The Uncle (the Father’s brother) tries to smooth things over and create a more relaxed atmosphere.

The Grandfather’s anxiety soon dominates the conversation and the play’s tone. They all have opinions about the Mother’s situation, in particular, and about illness in general. Waiting for the sister’s arrival turns into apprehension about who or what might be outside. Looking out into the road for her aunt, Ursula instead says she thinks she sees someone in the garden, and that the birds (nightingales) have stopped singing. Their conversation ranges among the room, with a door that will not shut properly; the light, which is dimmer than normal; and, after he falls asleep, the Grandfather’s declining mental condition.

Soon everyone starts to hear noises, and they think someone has entered the house, certainly the sister. However, the maid-servant says she did not arrive. The grandfather becomes convinced that someone is in the sitting room with them, not just in the house, but the others disagree. He decides that he should go into the mother’s room and check on her, but the others discourage him. As it grows darker inside and silent outside, the infant wails offstage and the mother’s nurse comes in to tell them she has died. They all rush off to her room, leaving the grandfather alone.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 984

Six characters feel enormous tension one Saturday evening between shortly after nine o’clock and midnight in a somber sitting room of an old château surrounded by gardens and a lake. Together with their father, uncle, and grandfather, three young women hopefully await the visit of the father’s and the uncle’s eldest sister, a nun who is the mother superior of her convent, and of the doctor who is to check on their sickly mother in the room on the left and the silent baby in the room on the right.

The family enters the sitting room, disagreeing. The father and the daughters want to sit outside while the uncle, because it rained for one week, prefers to remain inside. The grandfather resolves the dispute by saying that it is better to stay in since one never knows what might happen. The father declares that his wife, who was sick for several weeks, is out of danger from her illness. The grandfather disagrees, since he heard her voice. The uncle supports his brother and recommends that they all relax and enjoy the first pleasant evening they have had in a long time.

The uncle remarks that sickness is like a stranger in the family, and the father notes that one can count only on family members, not outsiders, for help. The men ask Ursula, the eldest daughter, if she can see anyone in the avenue. She sees no one yet, but reports that the avenue is moonlit and the weather fine, that the nightingales can be heard, and that the trees stir a little in the wind.

The mood changes when the grandfather announces that he no longer hears...

(The entire section contains 1358 words.)

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