Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 644

Someone in gray

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Someone in gray, called He, a figure who serves onstage as a narrator. He introduces the work during the prologue and at intervals provides commentary on the stages of the man’s life. During his appearances, this character remains apart from the others, who do not seem aware of his presence. He is taller than an ordinary man and is dressed in a hat and broad gray smock that shroud him in gloomy darkness except for his massive, weighty chin, nose, and cheekbones. His lips are often tightly pursed, and his eyes remain hidden. He speaks in a cold but solemn voice, uninflected by compassion or human concern; he is described as resembling one who is paid to read from the book of fate on an hourly basis.

The man’s father

The man’s father, a character who appears briefly during the first act. He seems affected by extreme weariness, which set in during his wife’s prolonged struggle to give birth to their son. Remorse for the suffering she has endured is offset by the father’s delight in their son’s clear physical resemblance to him. During this time, the father evidently is prone to conflicting and wildly oscillating feelings; in reflecting on some of his own shortcomings, he resolves to provide moral guidance by preventing his son from torturing animals or associating with unworthy friends.

The man

The man, who is shown during five periods of his life. By the second act, he has married; he has become an architect, but he is chronically out of work, and he lives in grinding abject poverty. Subsequently, he is favored by fortune, and his material wishes are fulfilled to the extent that he is able to stage a lavish ball in his elegantly appointed mansion. Later, his station in life has declined to the point that his once-magnificent house has become dark and empty. In early manhood, his wants and aspirations had centered on fine food, clothing, and other hallmarks of worldly success; eventually, his most intensely felt yearnings concern questions of life itself. In some flights of fantasy, he is inclined to portray himself as a valiant solitary knight engaged in combat with harsh, unrelenting fate; toward the end, he bitterly denounces the arbitrary injustice of his lot. When his son is wantonly attacked and struck in the head by a stone, then lies in the throes of death, the man summons forth bittersweet memories of the young man’s childhood joys. After praying, he inveighs against God, the Devil, or fate as he curses his life, with all of its hopes and sorrows. At the end, ragged, gray, and bowed with age, he is surrounded by leering, mocking revelers in a tavern before he utters anguished cries of helpless defiance and abruptly dies.

The wife

The wife, a figure who is described on her first appearance as very pretty, delicate, and graceful. She seems to grow old at about the same rate as her husband. Although, toward the end, she has become markedly gray and wrinkled, she scarcely has cause to doubt her husband’s continuing attachment to her. She has great regard for his talents as an architect; on many matters, her feelings seem to complement those of the man. When he is hungry and dejected, she commiserates with him, and early in their life she shares in his fond expectations of fame and prosperity. Whatever differences there may be arise when their son is about to die; she prays to God in a plaintive entreaty and reproaches her husband for an excess of pride when, in more pointed tones, he requests the Almighty to spare their son’s life. They seem united in grief when the young man’s final moments pass. It becomes known later that the wife has preceded her husband in death.

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Critical Essays