Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535
Karl Heinrich Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx, a German economist, philosopher, and socialist. At home with his large family, his partner Engels, and Leadbelly, Marx is torn in anguish between his love for his family and a passion to fulfill their needs, on one hand, and his calling to invent socialism, on the other. He is a sufferer, physically with boils and spiritually with a loss of faith and purpose, a Job in the age of science who denies his family’s religion and curses Yahweh (Jehovah). Marx denies that he is a Jew and calls himself a German and a European. Engels calls him “the preacher,” “a secular rabbi,” “a brilliant pragmatist,” and “a Jew who outgrew Judaism.” Leadbelly calls him “a universal man” and, in crude, explicit language, a carnal lover of his wife Jenny. Marx’s children call him “pappa.” After fairly regular but assorted torment in the first two acts, Marx lets himself be prodded into his destiny.
Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter
Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, also called Blackman and Herr Afrika, an American who comes from the future to ignite Marx into going to the British Museum to sit on his boils and write Das Kapital, which will change the destiny of the world. Leadbelly claims that he is of “the god-people of Africa,” the root base of “communalism,” the real revolutionary force. Leadbelly transforms into Nelson D. Rockefeller, who substantiates what Leadbelly has been singing: He wants the milk of nursing mothers, black, yellow, and white, so that he can become strong and make money in the American way—off slaves for low wages. Leadbelly’s music is evocative of the people of Africa. Although Marx prefers the plays of William Shakespeare to opera, the music and singing in the play suggest the popularity of opera in nineteenth century Europe.
Jenny von Westphalen
Jenny von Westphalen (fon vehst-FAHL-ehn), Marx’s devoted wife, a Prussian aristocrat without a thought in her head. She calls herself a “tempting Salome” and “a wicked temptress.” Marx adores her, although he had one love affair, with Lenchen. Leadbelly calls Jenny a sexy lady and the meanest woman he has even seen. She represents the domestic and romantic side in Marx’s conflict.
Friedrich Engels, Marx’s partner. Heir to a manufacturing fortune (ironically in Manchester, England), he shares his allowance with Marx. Engels calls himself “a good, honest revolutionary” who gives all of his energy to the goal of overthrowing tyrants, thus winning freedom and changing history.
Lenchen, the family cook, a constant reminder that there is not enough money for food, let alone anything else. In Engels’ dream, she momentarily becomes Mary Burns and urges him to seek an identity apart from Marx. As Engels is about to be persuaded, she becomes Lenchen the cook again.
Krista, Marx’s daughters. He loves them, is proud of them, and is eager to find suitable husbands for them. They sing: “Comes the revolution, we’ll don wedding dresses, and wear pretty flowers.”
Baby Johann, Marx’s precious son. Johann wants his father to write his book so that he can have a perfect, shiny wristwatch.
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