Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287
The main character in the play is the philosopher and political dissident Leopold Nettles. Having just written a book that criticizes the government, the government puts him under surveillance and seemingly forces him to stay at home in a paranoid and lonely state. He could go out, but as he states:
And be a nervous wreck the whole time, not knowing what's going on back here?
His friends Edward,Bertram, and Leopold's wife Suzanna are very worried about him, though there is some suggestion that it is not all sincere. Edward seems to be taking advantage of the situation to take Suzanna, who is constantly angry with Leopold, out on dates.
Bertram appears to the most genuinely worried of his friends, at one one point stating:
To your humor?... Your capacity for enthusiasm, for emotional involvement... I fear for you Leopold.
Though a victim of the government, Leopold is no victim in his personal relationships. He has his own lover, Lucy, who Suzanna seems to know well. On first seeing each other, they embrace and Lucy says:
We must have a chat - I've got so much to tell you.
Most probably Suzanna and Leopold have an open relationship.
Leopold, to his increasing annoyance, is hugely sought after. The First and Second Sidney, two inarticulate mill workers, regard Leopold as their spokesman and the student Marguerite worships him and his work.
The main antagonists are the aggressive government agents Chap One and Chap Two. They tell Leopold that if he
would sign, here and now, a short statement saying that you are not Professor Leopold Nettles, author of the paper in question, then the whole thing will be considered null and void and all previous decisions rescinded –
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 757
Professor Leopold Nettles
Professor Leopold Nettles, the protagonist, a philosopher and the writer of a book that contains a paragraph that the authorities deem subversive. He seems most concerned about his bodily functions, and he paces his apartment like a wild animal in a cage. He is unable to write and is handicapped by the constant pressure of impending imprisonment. Most of the time, he drinks rum and takes pills while waiting to be taken away. He claims to be a coward who lacks human integrity and doubts himself capable of love. He quotes from things he has said as if he is some other person, and he quotes what Bertram has told him he is. In short, he is not himself but only a hollow shell who remains, although he resents it, a prisoner to everyone else’s expectations of who he is. He is a symbol of truth and conviction to the outside world. Leopold is also the playwright’s literary analogy to himself.
Edward, a friend of Leopold who empathizes with Leopold’s situation and encourages him to go out or at least to keep the window open. Edward’s genuine interest, however, is in Suzana. He disengages himself from Leopold at Suzana’s entrance, speaking with her in the kitchen and taking her first to the movies and later to a dinner dance. Edward represents opportunists who sympathize but will not be personally inconvenienced.
Suzana, Leopold’s wife. She lives with Leopold and shops for him but is continually angry at him. She emphasizes the impracticality of Leopold’s existence: She assures him that he cannot eat an egg with a silver spoon and that he does not know how to wash a pot. In addition, her behavior suggests that she even has to sleep with another man. She does not want Leopold to recant and live a normal life, yet she wishes a normal life for herself: She goes to the movies and a dinner dance with Edward.
First Sidney and
Second Sidney, two men who are virtually indistinguishable from each other, except that one smokes and the other drinks. They are proletarians who work in a paper mill; they represent the common and silent majority. Basically inarticulate, they think of Leopold as their spokesperson. They expect him to take their stand and supply him with plenty of paper to expedite their expectations. Each one, ironically, asks for nothing for himself, but something for the other.
Lucy, Leopold’s mistress. She wants to “unblock” Leopold by giving him love. Leopold feels physical attraction toward her but is impotent with her and unable to protect her from the police. She encourages Leopold to write something new and is taken away by the secret police slaves, to Leopold’s shame, covered only in a bedspread.
Bertram, one of the more intelligent citizens. He berates Leopold for not answering letters and for retaining only the role of the philosopher and not actually being one anymore.
First Chap and
Second Chap, two men who are virtually indistinguishable from each other and who represent the military police. They tell Leopold that he will not have to go to jail if he will deny that he was the person who wrote the subversive paragraph. Although Leopold, because of the political situation, is not any longer the same person who wrote that essay, there is a certain ironic validity to their charge. The expectations of others that he is brave, courageous, and forthright force him to lie to the police, claiming that indeed he is himself. Leopold’s concern about when he will be taken in as a prisoner continues.
First Man and
Second Man, two men who follow orders and take Lucy away in a bedspread. Both represent slaves who have capitulated to the regime and do not think for themselves.
Marguerite, a young and silly graduate student who has read all of Leopold’s books and fancies herself to be in love with the man as well as his ideas. She wants the same things from him that Lucy does (and perhaps that Suzana did). She represents and underlines the silly, irrepressible romantic feelings that people have for political martyrs. Lucy’s feelings that these people are heroes are assurance that political martyrs—even those who, such as Leopold, have lost the courage of their convictions—will continue to meet the psychological demands of the times despite their personal toll.
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