Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 337

Eight characters appear onstage in The Intruder : the grandfather; the father, Paul; the uncle, Oliver; three daughters: Gertrude, Geneviève, and Ursula; the Sister of Mercy; and the maid-servant. In the home but offstage, there are also the Mother and the newborn infant. The family members gathered in the living...

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Eight characters appear onstage in The Intruder: the grandfather; the father, Paul; the uncle, Oliver; three daughters: Gertrude, Geneviève, and Ursula; the Sister of Mercy; and the maid-servant. In the home but offstage, there are also the Mother and the newborn infant. The family members gathered in the living room, concerned because the mother is not recovering from her recent delivery. While much discussion centers on their likely or possibly presence, the audience never learns if there is actually a physical intruder in the garden or house; the character may be a metaphor for illness or death.

The grandfather, though elderly and blind, remains the supreme authority over the family. His intuition about the family’s problems is inferred by his obsession with the intruder. Other characters, including the father, suggest that his mental capabilities have declined, perhaps along with the blindness. He seems to have a stronger relationship with Ursula.

The father is consumed by anxiety over his wife and resentful of the baby. His status as head of the family is limited by his father’s dominance, and despite his respect for the patriarchal structure, he challenges the older man’s authority with accusations about his sanity.

The uncle, the father’s brother, is visiting from the city. Oliver serves as the voice of reason, such as advocating that they listen to the doctors. He also stirs up trouble in criticizing the grandfather and recommending that the family fire the maid-servant.

While the three daughters often act in consort, Ursula stands out for having more action, such as opening windows, and more dialogue, in speaking with the grandfather. Overall, they seem submissive to the male characters. The Sister of Charity, who appears onstage only at the end, takes care of the mother in her room. She enters to inform the family of the mother’s death.

The maid-servant, accused of making the noises heard or leaving the door open, staunchly defends herself. She has a strong character and stands up to the others’ accusations.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

The Grandfather

The Grandfather, who, like the prophets in the works of Homer and Sophocles, is blind but sees the truth more clearly than the younger people around him. He says exactly what he discerns. His persistent questions about who is in the garden and the sitting room or why the lamp burns less brightly and his accusations that his family is keeping important information from him show him to be, despite his frailty from living nearly eighty years, a seeker of truth on all levels—rational, emotional, and intuitive. The Father remembers that before he became blind he was as reasonable as the others and “never said anything extraordinary.” The Father blames Ursula, the eldest daughter, for encouraging The Grandfather too much by answering all of his questions.

The Father

The Father, who only once is called Paul by The Grandfather. He is worried about his sickly wife and wishes that his eldest sister, a nun who never arrives, would appear and end his anxious waiting. He is worn out from his wife’s childbirth and subsequent illness. At one point, he even blames the child for her difficulties, although his ever reasonable brother points out that it is not the little boy’s fault. He becomes irritated by his father-in-law’s questions and anxieties, sometimes suggesting to The Uncle that The Grandfather is insane. The Father represents the patriarchal voice of reason that has little time for emotions and intuitions. The fulfillment of The Grandfather’s premonitions reflects how limited The Father’s viewpoint really is.

The Uncle

The Uncle, who only once is called Oliver by The Grandfather. He appears to be an urban man, a bit uneasy in the rural environment and in the stressful circumstances caused by a very ill sister-in-law and her newborn baby, who never cries. He tries to continue the insipid conversation of the evening, but he probably would rather be somewhere other than this gloomy setting. He criticizes The Grandfather for always worrying too much and for not listening to reason, although he understands that the old man’s age permits him to be a little strange. He prefers to believe the doctors and other voices of reason, perceiving that the blind old man has too much time to reflect. He shows how harsh reasonableness can be when he remarks that it is time for his brother to get rid of the stout, ailing Maid-Servant, for soon she will be a burden. In a play that provides speeches generally of one line, The Uncle occasionally speaks more than a single line, although never as many as The Grandfather. Maurice Maeterlinck believed that intuition must always be combined with reason, and The Uncle’s reasonableness interacts with The Grandfather’s intuitiveness.

The Three Daughters

The Three Daughters, Gertrude, Geneviève, and Ursula, who often act as a unit. For example, all go to check on the silent infant. The Daughters appear to be young and obedient to the men of the household. Their acute sensitivity cannot, at times, keep them from showing their anxiety through paleness and trembling. Ursula receives the most orders—to open and close windows, describe the weather, and tell the truth to The Grandfather when he is convinced that all the others lie to him.

The Sister of Charity

The Sister of Charity, who serves offstage in the ailing mother’s room. She is a silent presence whose caretaking permits the rest of the family to sit discussing together both their fears and mundane topics while they await the doctor. The Sister of Charity makes her only appearance at the end of the play, when her gestures announce that the mother has died. Her silence does not communicate to The Grandfather, who is abandoned in confusion while the others enter the dead woman’s chamber.

The Maid-Servant

The Maid-Servant, a feisty woman who insists that she did not leave open the door to the house, tramp too loudly on the steps, or try to barge into the sitting room. She refuses to accept blame for the sounds the nervous men hear, and she does not hesitate to defend herself before The Father. Her outspokenness suggests that the noises were made by The Intruder, because no rational explanation for them is provided by The Maid-Servant.

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