The Night of the Iguana Characters
by Tennessee Williams

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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 New England patriciate; even in extreme old age (he is ninety-seven years old), he retains his courtly manners and sprightly,...

(The entire section is 1,373 words.)