The Night of the Iguana

by Tennessee Williams

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Characters Discussed

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T. Lawrence (Larry) Shannon

T. Lawrence (Larry) Shannon, a former Episcopal priest, now a tour guide. The handsome thirty-five-year-old American is suffering through the opening stages of a nervous breakdown. When he arrives at Maxine’s Costa Verde Hotel, he has hit bottom; in a relatively brief period, he has descended from being the promising young rector of an affluent Virginia congregation to conducting tours for an international travel agency to, finally, leading a group of Baptist schoolteachers around Mexico under the aegis of a seedy travel bureau. Although part of Larry’s problem clearly involves alcohol, a weakness continually implied by the other characters and by Larry himself, he is chiefly troubled by his “Spook,” a phantasm created by his own anxieties. Despite his irresponsibility, weakness, and occasional cruelty, Larry retains strong personal appeal; part of his fascination lies in his sexual attractiveness, but even more engaging is his aura of “fallenness,” of lost innocence. It becomes increasingly clear, as the plot unfolds, that Larry is tormented by his search for God, even though, as Hannah points out, he relishes that torment. In his treatment of Hannah and her grandfather, even in his rough affection toward Maxine, Larry evinces true compassion. His call—at least as it is manifested in his sympathy for other troubled people—has not diminished. Larry’s essence is contradiction: His kindness is shot through with cruelty, his longing for God is tainted by sensuality, and his need to escape dependency is thwarted by moral inertia.

Maxine Faulk

Maxine Faulk, the owner of the Costa Verde Hotel, recently widowed. Sensual, direct, and practical, Maxine is at once powerfully drawn to Larry and puzzled by him. In the weeks before the action of the play begins, Maxine, a woman in her mid-forties, lost her husband, a much older man. The final illness and death of her husband have not dampened her sexual appetite, and she has hired two young Mexican “boys” to accommodate her needs. Like Larry, however, her sensuality seems largely innocent and straightforward, and she is unashamed of her sexual life, although she is well aware that her lasciviousness repels Larry. She, too, seeks solace in alcohol, and she repeatedly encourages Larry to drink with her. Running through her sensuality and self-indulgence, however, is a wide vein of common sense and emotional strength; her material well-being is almost always uppermost in her mind. She correctly views Hannah as a rival, even though Hannah’s character is a mystery to her.

Hannah Jelkes

Hannah Jelkes, an itinerant sketch artist, a guest at the hotel. Hannah is Maxine’s opposite and Larry’s spiritual sister. Otherworldly, genteel, and deeply compassionate, Hannah seems to transcend the unpleasant reality of her situation: She is in effect caretaker of her aged grandfather, Nonno. For reasons that are never made clear, she and Nonno have been compelled to make their living through Hannah’s sketches of guests at the hotels, which are their only “home,” and through Nonno’s recitations of his once-famous poetry. Hannah’s near-androgyny is in direct contrast to Maxine’s earthiness, but despite her Puritan instincts, Hannah manifests intense femininity. Her reserve, kindness, and gentility are all deeply appealing to Larry. On the whole, however, her chief motivation is self-sacrifice; she has submerged her personality in caring for her grandfather and is unable to respond to Larry’s plea for companionship.

Jonathan “Nonno” Coffin

Jonathan “Nonno” Coffin, an aged poet, Hannah’s grandfather. Although he was once a noted minor poet, Coffin’s current claim to fame is simply that, as Hannah says, he is the “world’s oldest living, practicing poet.” Like his granddaughter, Nonno is clearly a member of the...

(This entire section contains 722 words.)

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New England patriciate; even in extreme old age (he is ninety-seven years old), he retains his courtly manners and sprightly, if dated, wit. During the course of the play, Nonno writes his last poem, breaking a twenty-year creative dry spell.

Judith Fellowes

Judith Fellowes, a schoolteacher, the tour organizer. Judith is Larry’s chief antagonist. Something of a stereotype, she is notable chiefly for her prudery and insensitivity.

The Fahrenkopfs

The Fahrenkopfs, a German family on vacation. Herr and Frau Fahrenkopf and their grown children, Hilda and Wolfgang, are, like Judith, largely stereotypes—in this instance, caricatures of buxom, beer-swilling, obtuse representatives of the “master race.”


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Jonathan Coffin
Jonathon Coffin is the elderly grandfather of Hannah Jelkes. He is nearly 98 years "young" and a minor poet. With his granddaughter, he travels around the world, paying his way by reciting poems to hotel guests. Coffin is somewhat senile, very hard of hearing, and uses a wheelchair and a cane to get around. His dementia increases during the night at the Costa Verde. Coffin manages to finish one last poem before he dies at the end of The Night of the Iguana.

Maxine Faulk
Maxine is the middle-aged padrona of the Costa Verde Hotel. She has recently been widowed; her husband Fred has died. Even before his death, Maxine was sleeping with other men, mostly local boys. Maxine is an old friend of Shannon's. Though he is suffering from mental collapse, she tries to ply him with rum-cocos in an attempt to get him under her control, sexual and otherwise. Shannon resists for the most part. Maxine is extremely jealous when Hannah arrives and bonds with Shannon. Maxine does not want Hannah and her grandfather to stay, but Shannon convinces her to change her mind. Maxine confronts Hannah over the connection she sees between Hannah and Shannon, but Hannah dominates the conversation. In the end, Maxine gets her way, and Shannon agrees to stay at the hotel indefinitely with her.

Judith Fellowes
Judith Fellowes is the leader of the group for which Shannon is acting as tour guide. She is very angry at Shannon for his involvement with one of her charges and reports him to his superiors.

Charlotte Goodall
Charlotte is the young girl whom Shannon has sex with on the tour. She is very much in love with him and wants to get married.

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Hannah Jelkes
Hannah Jelkes is a middle-aged spinster from New England. She seems about 40, but could be a few years older or younger. She travels the world with her elderly grandfather, Jonathon Coffin, a poet. Together they stay in hotels and pay their way via their respective artistic skills; Hannah is an artist who paints watercolors and sketches people in charcoal and pastels. Hannah and her grandfather stay at the Costa Verde Hotel out of desperation: they are nearly penniless. In fact, Maxine does not want them to stay, but Shannon convinces her otherwise. While at the hotel, Hannah does not sell any art, but her calm serenity helps Shannon through his breakdown. She works as the opposite of Shannon in many ways. For example, she has only had two sexual encounters in her life, yet has a greater understanding of herself and life than Shannon. Though Shannon wants them to travel together, Hannah refuses, telling him to stay with Maxine. At the end of the play, Hannah is left alone when her grandfather dies and her future is uncertain.

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Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon
Reverend Shannon is the central character in The Night of the Iguana. He is a middle-aged minister who lost his church when he had an improper relationship with a Sunday school teacher. Shannon becomes a tour guide, leading groups in many different countries. He leads his current group to the Costa Verde Hotel after he has sex with one of his young charges. Shannon suffers a crisis verging on breakdown at the hotel. He refuses to let the group leave, fearing he will lose his job. To that end, he holds the key to the bus in his pocket. Maxine backhandedly tries to help him, by tempting him with alcohol and sex. Shannon finds his salvation in Hannah, who helps him face himself and his problems. Shannon ends up letting the group go, by force, but symbolically frees himself when he frees the iguana tied up by the veranda. At the final curtain, it is implied that Shannon will stay at the hotel with Maxine and help her run the establishment.




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