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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

The Grandfather

The grandfather, though elderly and blind, remains the supreme authority over the family. He is clearly the patriarch, though his power is waning as his health declines. His intuition about the family’s problems is represented 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. Though extremely paranoid and anxious, the grandfather appears to be the only character who can truly “sense” the foreboding presence of death.

The Father

The father—once referred to by his name, Paul—is consumed by anxiety over his wife and resentful of the baby. His status as head of the family is limited by the grandfather’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 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 insists that the family not get carried away with worry; this evening is one of the most peaceful nights they have had since the mother fell ill. He also stirs up trouble by criticizing the grandfather and recommending that the family fire the maid-servant.

The Three Daughters

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. The other daughters, Geneviève and Gertrude, play a less prominent role. Overall, they seem submissive to the male characters and are ordered around often. 

The Mother

The mother of the newborn infant has fallen ill after childbirth. Throughout the entire play, she remains in bed offstage. Her husband believes she is beating her illness while the grandfather is not so sure. She dies in the last scene after succumbing to her sickness.

The Infant

The newborn baby has not made a noise since his birth. The grandfather worries that he will have physical or mental impairments because he came from an incestuous relationship. The child’s father resents him for bringing pain to his wife. It is only when the mother dies that the child makes a sound: he begins wailing in horror.

The Maid-Servant

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. She confirms the noises, yet adds to the family’s paranoia by insisting she did not cause them.

The Sister of Mercy

The Sister of Mercy, 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. She is dressed ominously in all black, perhaps as if preemptively mourning the mother she oversaw. 

The Intruder

The presence of the intruder is never verified. It is speculated to be a doctor, the sister who is expected to visit, the gardener, or a stranger. Though never revealed, the identity and existence of the intruder are somewhat confirmed by the end of the play. The real intruder seems to be Death personified. This is emphasized by the sharpening of the scythe—famously associated with the Grim Reaper—and the eventual death of the mother.

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