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Dr. Cunningham
Although he enjoys a roster of wealthy clients, Cunningham is a lazy, careless, and incompetent practitioner. His colleagues disparage him, but because of his influential friends, he still is granted hospital privileges for his patients. Ferguson draws his disfavor when he disagrees with Cunningham’s treatment of a patient, even though Ferguson’s actions save the patient’s life.

Barbara Dennin
Barbara is a lonely student nurse at the hospital. She is infatuated with Ferguson and initiates a sexual encounter with him. When she becomes pregnant, instead of turning to anyone at the hospital for help, she goes to an illegal abortionist who botches the job. She is brought into the hospital with an infection. The news of her indiscretion means that her life is in ruins—she will be cast out of the nursing program, and no other hospital will take her. Ferguson vows to marry her, but, although she initially seems to be recovering, she dies.

Dr. George Ferguson
Ferguson is a promising young intern who struggles with conflict between his personal and professional lives. He is dedicated to his work and his patients, and hopes to better the lives of humanity through medical care and the development of new medical treatments. As the play opens, Ferguson is set to marry Laura—whom he deeply loves— and go with her to Vienna, where he intends to study surgery for a year. He then plans to return home to study under Hochberg at the local hospital. He wants this future despite the fact that his father, also a doctor, died at a young age of a heart attack brought on by overwork.

As the demands of his profession are so great, Laura forces him to choose between marrying her and going into private practice or continuing his studies and becoming a surgeon. Threatened with the demise of the engagement, Ferguson decides to give up his plans to become a surgeon. He decides to accept the hospital’s offer of an associateship and agrees to go into private practice, though he realizes he may never fulfill his full potential as a doctor if he goes this route.

Free to pursue his medical career after Laura learns about his affair with Barbara, Ferguson again questions the importance of his medical career when he determines to marry Barbara. As before, this decision would end his dreams of becoming a surgeon. Ferguson is ready to give up medicine entirely to support Barbara. At the end of the play, however, with Barbara’s death, he chooses a professional life over a personal life. Although Laura wants to reconcile, he rededicates himself to medicine, telling her, ‘‘This is where I belong!’’

Dr. Hochberg
Hochberg is the well-respected chief of surgery. His dedication to his profession is boundless; he appears to have no life outside of the hospital. Hochberg believes that achieving potential in the medical field requires absolute sacrifice and that a doctor’s reward ‘‘is something richer than simply living.’’ As Ferguson’s mentor, he urges the younger doctor to stay focused on his medical career. His call that Ferguson place his studies above all other demands, even those of honor or love, shows that Hochberg has little comprehension of such demands. At the end of the play, Ferguson chooses Hochberg and the ideals he represents over all others.

HockySee Dr. Hochberg

Laura Hudson
Laura, Ferguson’s fiancée, is the daughter of a wealthy businessman. She wants Ferguson to give up his dreams of being a surgeon and go into a lessdemanding private practice. When Ferguson says he will not do so, she threatens to break off their engagement. By the...

(This entire section contains 820 words.)

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end of the play, however, she realizes how important medicine is to Ferguson. Although she wants to work out a compromise, Ferguson has decided not to let marriage sidetrack his medical aspirations.

Mr. Hudson
Hudson is a wealthy businessman, one of the few who continues to prosper during the Great Depression. A patient of Dr. Hochberg’s, he declares his intention of becoming a trustee of the hospital in return for awarding his future son-inlaw, Ferguson, an associateship.

Dr. Levine
Levine is a former intern of the hospital. Six years ago, he abandoned his opportunities to work with Hochberg in order to marry. Forced into private practice to support his wife, for the past six years he has barely eked out a living. His experiences have left him an unhappy, beaten man. By the end of the play, he and his wife, who is stricken with tuberculosis, have relocated, and once again Levine faces the formidable challenge of earning a living through private practice.

Dorothy Smith
Dot is a young diabetic patient of Cunningham’s. She has gone into shock as a result of Cunningham having ordered a too-large injection of insulin, but Cunningham thinks she is in a coma. Ferguson’s correct diagnosis and treatment saves her life.




Critical Essays