“Captain” Jack Boyle
“Captain” Jack Boyle, called the “paycock” by his wife because of his slow, consequential strut. The quintessence of impracticality, Jack needs only enough money for his daily consumption of ale or whiskey. News of an inheritance of two thousand pounds from a distant relative and the subsequent reversal, because of a legal technicality in the will, make little difference in the paycock’s life. His few fleeting dreams of better conditions for the Boyle family are no discouragement to the “captain” when he learns that the money will not be forthcoming; he is drunk, he has sixpence in his pocket, and he is with “Joxer” Daly, a longtime drinking pal. That they are in an almost empty room (the unpaid-for furniture having been reclaimed) while they discuss their devotion to Ireland and the wretched state of the world is inconsequential.
Juno Boyle, his wife. Once a pretty woman, she now has a look of listless and harassed anxiety. This appearance results from a life as Jack Boyle’s wife and mother of their two children. Under more favorable conditions, she probably would be handsome, active, and clever. Her lot in life is to achieve some semblance of practicality to balance her husband’s insensibility.
Mary, their twenty-two-year-old daughter. Like her mother, she would be an attractive woman under better circumstances. Looking for improved circumstances leads Mary to an affair and ultimately to pregnancy; her would-be benefactor abandons her. Despite her active mind, shown in her reading and her imagination, life probably will continue to pull her back as she works futilely to go forward.
Johnny, the Boyles’ son, who is as dissatisfied with family conditions as is Mary. Rebellious, Johnny fights more actively than does his sister. He has lost one arm and sustained a crippling hip injury in an Irish political demonstration. The information he gives against a member of his group shows his lack of standards and strength. When he is sought out for his informing, his cowardliness is evident as he is led out to be shot by two armed Irish Irregulars.
“Joxer” Daly, Boyle’s carousing crony. His evasion of work surpasses Boyle’s indifference to responsibility. His constant grinning and the twinkle in his eyes make him more amiable but no more respectable than Boyle.
Charlie Bentham, a schoolteacher who brings news of Boyle’s legacy. Bentham’s studiousness and wide knowledge are attractive to Mary; she sees him as the means of escaping life in the tenement. Bentham’s misinterpretation of the will, depriving the Boyles of the expected money, is secondary to his abandonment of pregnant Mary.
Jerry Devine, a tenement-dweller and an active member of the Irish youth movement. Long in love with Mary, Devine still desires her after Bentham deserts her, until she tells him she is pregnant. Mary’s candor is repugnant to Johnny, who berates his sister for losing an opportunity to escape to a higher scale of living.
Mrs. Maisie Madigan
Mrs. Maisie Madigan, a tenement-dweller and the female counterpart of Boyle and Joxer. She is as abusive of Boyle, when he cannot repay loans she made him on the strength of the inheritance, as she is exuberant in celebrating the news of the legacy with Joxer and Boyle.
“Needle” Nugent, a tailor in the tenement. To reclaim the suit Boyle orders, to be paid for when he collects his legacy, Needle snatches the suit from beside Boyle’s bed.
Mrs. Tancred, a tenement neighbor of the Boyles and the mother of the boy shot after Johnny informed against him. Mrs. Tancred’s lament as she goes to her son’s funeral is the forecast of Juno’s cry when Johnny is shot.
Irregular Mobilizers, who come for Johnny when he is to be shot.
A coal-block vendor
A coal-block vendor,
a sewing-machine man
a sewing-machine man, and
furniture removal men
furniture removal men, who, in the activity of their various trades, along with the mobilizers, add to the general confusion of the final scenes of the play. Their activity spells disintegration of the Boyle household and family.