Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 792
Lavinia Mannon, the daughter of Christine and Ezra Mannon. Tall, flat-breasted, angular, and imperious in manner, Lavinia is fond of her father and fiercely jealous of her mother. While Ezra was fighting in the Civil War, Christine had an affair with Captain Adam Brant. Unconscious desire to have Adam for herself leads Lavinia to demand that Christine give up Adam or face a scandal that would ruin the family name. Unable to go on living with a husband she despises, Christine plots with Adam to poison Ezra when he returns. Ezra is murdered, and Lavinia discovers her mother’s guilt. When her brother Orin returns, wounded and distraught, from the war, Lavinia tries to enlist his aid in avenging their father’s death. Orin refuses until Lavinia proves Christine’s guilt by a ruse. Blaming Adam for the murder, Orin goes to Adam’s ship and shoots him. When Orin reveals to Christine what he has done, she kills herself. Orin and Lavinia then close the Mannon house and voyage to the South Seas. Symbolically liberated from the repressiveness of the New England Puritan tradition, Lavinia blossoms into a duplicate of her voluptuous mother. She plans to marry and start a new life. Orin, hounded by his guilt and going mad, threatens to reveal the Mannons’ misdeeds and tries to extort from Lavinia a lover’s promise never to leave him. Lavinia agrees but ruthlessly drives Orin to suicide. Now convinced that the Mannon blood is tainted with evil, she resolves to punish herself for the Mannons’ guilt. She orders the house shuttered and withdraws into it forever.
Christine Mannon, Lavinia’s mother, tall, beautiful, and sensual. Fearing that she will be killed or arrested for her husband’s murder, she makes plans with Adam Brant to flee the country and sail for a “happy island.” When Orin taunts her with his murder of Adam, Christine goes into the Mannon house and shoots herself.
Orin Mannon, Lavinia’s brother, a young idealist who has been spiritually destroyed by the war. Progressively degenerating under the burden of his guilt, Orin conceives that Lavinia has taken the place of his beloved mother. Resolved that Lavinia shall never forget what they have done, Orin writes a history of the Mannon family and uses the manuscript to force Lavinia to promise never to leave him.
General Ezra Mannon
General Ezra Mannon, Christine’s husband, a tall, big-boned, curt, and authoritative aristocrat. Cold, proud, and unconsciously cruel, Ezra always favored Lavinia over Christine and Orin. When he returns from the war, he tries desperately to make Christine love him, but his efforts are too late. She reveals her infidelity, causing Ezra to have a heart attack. When he asks for medicine, she gives him poison.
Captain Adam Brant
Captain Adam Brant, Christine’s lover, the captain of a clipper ship. The son of Ezra Mannon’s uncle and a servant girl, Marie Brantome, Adam has sworn to revenge himself on the Mannons, who had allowed his mother to die of poverty and neglect. His first approaches to the Mannon house were motivated by this desire for revenge, but he falls deeply in love with Christine.
Captain Peter Niles
Captain Peter Niles, of the U.S. Artillery, a neighbor, Lavinia’s intended. Lavinia is forced by Orin to give up her plans to marry Peter and to leave behind her the collective guilt of the Mannon family.
Hazel Niles, Peter’s sister and Orin’s fiancée. She persists in trying to help the erratic Orin lead a normal life. As she becomes aware that Lavinia and Orin share some deep secret, she fears that Lavinia will ruin Peter’s life and demands of Lavinia that she not marry him.
Seth Beckwith, the Mannon’s gardener, a stooped but hearty old man of seventy-five. Seth serves as commentator and chorus throughout the play.
Louisa Ames, his wife, and
Minnie, Louisa’s cousin, townsfolk who act as the chorus in “Homecoming.”
Josiah Borden, the manager of the shipping company.
Emma Borden, his wife.
Everett Hills, D.D.
Everett Hills, D.D., a Congregational minister. He and the Bordens serve as the chorus in “The Hunted.”
The chantyman, a drunken sailor who carries on a suspense-building conversation with Adam Brant as Adam waits for Christine to join him on his ship.
Ira Mackel, and
Abner Small, the chorus in “The Haunted.”
Avahanni, a Polynesian native with whom Lavinia carried on a flirtation. Lavinia’s falsely telling Orin that Avahanni had been her lover helps drive Orin to suicide.
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