Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
Drumm (Desmond Drumm)
Drumm Desmond Drumm), a sixty-four-year-old Irish civil servant on the verge of retirement. Crusty, intellectual, and snobbish, with a biting wit, he clearly regards himself as better than everyone he knows. He is married to a woman he does not respect, childless, and separated from his community by his exacting standards for intellect and work; he is almost totally isolated. News that he has only six months to live prompts Drumm to attempt a healing of old wounds and a final assessment of his life. That final accounting primarily involves his relationship with his wife and with two childhood friends.
Desmond (Desmond Drumm)
Desmond (Desmond Drumm), a twenty-four-year-old, Drumm’s younger self. Desmond is in love with Mary and eager to believe that he can make her live up to what is “best” in her, encouraging her to take her studies more seriously and to avoid the dances and frivolity she loves. The seeds of his later arrogance are evident in his scornful attitude toward Lar. His fellow students’ nickname for him, “Mammy Cough-Bottle,” hints at the later difficulty he will have getting along with his community.
Dolly Drumm, Drumm’s sixty-year-old, long-suffering wife, who loves him dearly but is desperately afraid of angering him. She is more aware of his scorn for her, and more wounded by it, than she reveals. She smooths over his every harshness with deliberate cheerfulness and continues to hope for a better future.
Dorothy, Dolly’s younger self, a twenty-year-old student in a technical training program. She has been attracted to Desmond since the first time she saw him, and she is closer to him in interests than is Mary, but Desmond is blind to her virtues and marries her only when he loses Mary. He gets a better wife than he deserves.
Mary Kearns, the woman Drumm once loved, now sixty years old. Outspoken, humorous, good-humored, and “more physical than intellectual,” she is nevertheless wiser than Desmond by far. Married to a man the world regards as worthless, she has not only put up with him but also sensed his worth and his warmth. While drunk, her husband accidentally backed a car into her, so she limps slightly, but she is unresentful and accepts the situation as an accident for which her husband should not be blamed. She is not, however, a saint, and when Drumm hurts her husband, she knows exactly how to strike back. Eventually, she gives Drumm the honest accounting of his life’s credits and debits for which he has asked.
Mibs, the young Mary, twenty years old. Pretty, lively, and gay, she is no scholar and has no wish to be one. She is attracted to Desmond but chooses Lar instead (despite her parents’ preferences) because, even at the age of twenty, she senses that Desmond would seek to shape her every thought and action, whereas Lar will leave a bit of her for herself.
Kearns (Larry Kearns)
Kearns (Larry Kearns), Mary’s sixty-four-year-old husband. He “messes everything up,” cannot keep a job, and is overly fond of drinking. He is physical whereas Drumm is intellectual and popular whereas Drumm is friendless. He is also warmhearted and generous, and he is unwounded by most of Drumm’s jibes because he is incapable of suspecting ill will in anyone, having none himself. It is largely his contrasting personality that makes Drumm realize that “instead of friends, I’ve had standards,” and the two characters illuminate each other.
Lar (Larry Kearns)
Lar (Larry Kearns), Kearns’ younger self, who is twenty-four years old. Already too fond of idleness and drink, he wins Mary because he is warm and funny, whereas Desmond is cold and sardonic. His acceptance of and pleasure in the physical side of life includes, but is not limited to, sex. An abundance of goodwill makes him want everyone to be happy.
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