The Mound Builders

by Lanford Wilson

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Characters Discussed

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Professor August Howe

Professor August Howe, an archaeologist. A serious scientist, he is methodical, organized, industrious, and idealistic. At forty years of age, he is the leader of an archaeological expedition in the hills of southern Illinois that is about to unearth significant remnants of ancient Indian civilization. Accustomed to quietly maintaining control, he creates the play’s narrative framework by flashing slides on a screen and dictating instructions to his secretary, thus permitting flashbacks to the sequence of events from the previous summer in which he plays a major role. His consuming involvement in this work prevents him from attending to a disintegrating marriage, which fails even as his professional dreams do. He nurtures the belief that his work is more important than the livelihood of the landowners of the site and is stunned when that site is brutally destroyed; the play concludes with him wordless and directionless.

Cynthia Howe

Cynthia Howe, his thirty-five-year-old wife, a photographer. The characters of Cynthia and of Jean Loggins are not as fully drawn as those of their husbands. What emerges in Cynthia is a woman who is physically cold toward her husband but who remains a helpmate in his research, documenting his excavations with her photographs. Her passions and preoccupations are drawn to the dangerous, hot-headed, younger Chad Jasker. Although Chad seems to have lost some interest in his affair with her, her loyalty to him is so strong that, after Chad has bulldozed the excavation site, she is motivated to destroy the last vestige of her husband’s research project—the undeveloped roll of pictures in her camera.

D. K. (Delia) Eriksen

D. K. (Delia) Eriksen, Howe’s sister, thirty-eight years old. She is an invalid and a hypochondriac who has been in and out of institutions for treatment of her alcoholism. She has arrived for an indefinite stay with her brother at the farmhouse where he is lodging with his family and assistants during the dig. She is a published writer of some note (Dan had studied her work in college classes), but at the time of the play, she is unable to create. Her character adds color, interest, some humor, and some important introspection as she interacts with other characters. At the play’s conclusion, she is the singular voice of strength and calm amid the grief, distraction, and death of the others.

Dr. Dan Loggins

Dr. Dan Loggins, an archaeologist and assistant to Howe. At the age of twenty-nine, his youth and vigor feed his hunger for success and fame in his fledgling career, at times at the expense of human relationships, though he and Chad do enjoy fishing and drinking together. Dan seems miffed that pregnant Jean does not join him in the use of alcohol and marijuana, though that refusal does not diminish his own consumption. Like Howe, his professional preoccupations blind him to personal matters. He seems ignorant of the fact that his wife—now unflaggingly faithful and pregnant with Dan’s child—had been romantically involved with Chad the previous summer, and ignorant, too, of the subtle, if drunken, advances Chad now makes to him. In his death, Dan is a direct victim of Chad’s violent revenge even as Chad is a victim of Dan’s “blindness.”

Dr. Jean Loggins

Dr. Jean Loggins, Dan’s twenty-five-year-old wife, a gynecologist. Jean is more likable than Cynthia and less eccentric than D. K. She is intelligent, knows her own mind, is loyal to her husband, and is anticipating the birth of their child. A professional woman, she responds to the intellectual interests and insights of D. K. She repulses Chad’s lingering but insistent flirtations and is...

(This entire section contains 756 words.)

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seriously mentally distracted at the demolition of the excavation site and the murder of her husband.

Chad Jasker

Chad Jasker, the landowner’s son, twenty-five years old. He is assertive, philandering, opinionated, and materialistic. He and his father believe that their futures lie in the land they own, and they are certain that the development of that land, which will accompany the proposed interstate highway, will make them millionaires. What they do not know is that Howe and Loggins have used a 1954 law against defacing Indian monuments to have the highway rerouted to skirt the area. When Chad becomes aware of this (and of Jean’s pregnancy, which shocks him as well), he brutally bulldozes their findings and the burial mounds, kills Dan, and commits suicide. He is thus the agent of the destruction of all important professional and personal enterprises in the play.


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D. K. See Delia Eriksen

Delia Eriksen Delia, or D. K., is August’s mentally ill sister, aged thirty-eight. In her twenties, she wrote two books of fiction that made her a popular and critical success; her books were so well regarded that Dan studied them in a college literature course. Lately, however, D. K. has been known primarily for her eccentric and drunken living. She has come to Blue Shoals to stay with August because, penniless, she has suffered another in a series of breakdowns and has nowhere else to go. She and August have never approved of each other, and they seem to have spent their youth competing for their father’s respect. D. K. spends most of the play bundled in a chair, physically ill and cynical about her own work and about August’s project. At the end of the play, however, she is the one who most clearly sees the motives and strengths of the other characters, the one who, in Wilson’s words, is ‘‘strong enough to comfort the others.’’ She is dressed to leave for good on the morning that Dan turns up missing, and August is glad to see her leaving. Instead, however, she stays and holds onto Jean.

In an interview with Gene A. Barnett, Wilson explained that he had created the character of Delia with the actor Tanya Berezin, a member of the Circle Repertory, in mind. Berezin ‘‘had said she couldn’t play a genius, and she also had a great fear of comedy, of being funny.’’ Once he had the basic idea for Delia, Wilson shaped the character specifi- cally to provide a comic genius to challenge Berezin.

August Howe August is the head archeologist on the dig, the person around whom all the action revolves. Cynthia and Kirsten are his family; Dan is his assistant; Delia is his sister; Chad is his landlord, his temporary rival for Cynthia’s affections, and his rival for a claim to the land on which the mounds are located. August is forty years old, a respected but not famous archeologist employed by a large university. This is his fourth summer digging near the town of Blue Shoals, Illinois, where he and his team are excavating mounds built by early Mississippian people. They have uncovered pieces of pottery and one excellent bone awl, which August carefully records in his notes.

The land on which the mounds are located will soon be along the shores of a new lake that will be created by the Blue Shoals Dam. Chad, the owner of the home where August stays in the summer, hopes to be rich when the new highway comes through, because he owns the land on which a Holiday Inn and a golf course will sit. August sees Chad as inferior to him in social class and education and treats him with determined disrespect. Secretly, August has already arranged with the State of Illinois to re-route the new highway to protect the mounds. Chad will never be rich, and August has never bothered to tell him why.

When August and his team locate the tomb of a God-King, he expects to finally have the recognition that has eluded him. In the end, however, he loses everything: his family, his artifacts, his assistant, and his job. In the scenes in his study in Urbana, Illinois, during which he looks at slides from the expedition, August is bitter and cynical. In the flashback scenes, he is generally distant, often passing silently through a room where people are talking, to head for his study. He does not share Dan’s passions for archeology and for imagining the people who came before him. In fact, August is much more likely to be found in his study than out in the mud. He is impatient and even cruel with Delia, and he either does not notice or does not care that Cynthia is having an affair with Chad. But when Kirsten awakens in the night and calls for her mother, it is August who comforts her.

Cynthia Howe Cynthia, age thirty-five, is August’s wife and Kirsten’s mother. When she was younger, she dreamed of a career as a photographer, but after Kirsten was born she never got back to it. She has never found something to be passionate about in place of her career. Now she takes pictures in an unofficial way for August; the slides August is looking at in the ‘‘frame’’ scenes were shot by Cynthia. She has learned quite a bit about the expedition over the years and passes along her knowledge and her humorous perceptions of the men to Jean and Delia. Underneath her ironic attitudes, Cynthia is restless and unhappy, especially in her marriage. She drinks too much and throws herself at Chad, but none of it helps. When she learns that August has deceived Chad about his property rights, she takes the only action she can think of to express her disdain for August: she ruins the film with the only existing photographs of the artifacts from the God-King tomb so that August will have nothing to show for his discovery. Chad rejects her anyway. After the summer’s events, Cynthia divorces August and obtains custody of Kirsten.

Kirsten Howe Kirsten is the eleven-year-old daughter of August and Cynthia. She does not have much to do in Blue Shoals or in the play. Early on, she awakens from a bad dream in which she hears voices and is comforted by August. At other times, she hovers in the background, occasionally making a bored or sullen comment. When Wilson revised the play in 1986, he deleted the character of Kirsten.

Chad Jasker Chad, twenty-five, is the son of the man who owns the land on which the summer house and the mounds are located. He serves as a general caretaker for the archeologists, fixing windows and carrying gear. August condescends to him, but Jean and Chad were romantically involved the previous summer, Cynthia has an affair with him during the summer of the play, and Chad and Dan drink and fish together. Chad is not educated as the others are, and he both admires and despises them because of this. He dreams of the day when he will be wealthy and therefore equal or superior to them. Chad is disappointed that Jean has married Dan; he had hoped that she would share his new life. When he learns that she is pregnant and that August has arranged for the highway to bypass his land, he runs the bulldozer over the dig site and lures Dan outside. Earlier, Chad saved Dan’s life, but now he takes it away. The empty fishing boat is found the next morning, but neither man is seen again.

Dr. Dan Loggins Dan, twenty-nine years old, is August’s assistant and Jean’s husband. Dan has worked with August for four years, and he and Jean have gotten married since the previous summer’s expedition. Dan is passionate about archeology. He loves to spend time in the mud digging for artifacts (unlike August, who prefers office work) and to spin imaginative tales of what ancient humans were like. He also likes to drink and use drugs, which he does whenever he is not on the site. Dan is open and friendly, and he has earned the nickname Pollyandy, after the eternally optimistic fictional character Pollyanna. He socializes easily with Chad, though August discourages it. The previous summer, Chad saved Dan’s life, and this has created a friendly bond between them as they drink and fish together now. Dan has no suspicion that Chad carries a grudge against him, and even after the deception about the new highway is revealed, Dan willingly goes out with Chad after dark.

Dr. Jean Loggins Jean, twenty-five, is a gynecologist married to Dan. She is bright and optimistic, a former spelling champion and a dedicated wife. The previous summer she accompanied Dan to Blue Shoals, but she was not married to him then, and she gave Chad some cause to believe that he might have a chance with her. This summer, however, she is married to Dan and pregnant again after two miscarriages. She has been working in a clinic but has taken an eighteen-month leave to have the baby and plans to spend the summer in Blue Shoals resting, reading professional journals, and typing up Dan’s notes. Chad, unaware of the pregnancy, tries to rekindle their former relationship and hopes to impress her with his plans for developing the shores of the new lake, but she pushes him away. She is the only member of the party who takes Delia seriously, and it is to Delia that she turns when Dan dies.




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