Jessie Cates, a pale and somewhat physically unsteady woman in her late thirties or early forties. Overweight, afflicted with epilepsy, unable to hold a job, abandoned by her husband, and plagued by a delinquent son, Jessie faces a discouraging future: life with an aging mother and years of thoughtless holiday gifts from an insensitive brother and sister-in-law. Deciding finally to make a choice about her life, she calmly announces early in the play, “I’m going to kill myself, Mama” and then single-mindedly goes about the business of setting the household affairs in order. She explains the details of running the house to her mother, fends off the older woman’s attempts to change her plans, describes how her mother should act after the suicide, and finally goes into her bedroom, locks the door, and shoots herself. Jessie’s suicide is not an act of despair; on the contrary, her decision to kill herself is a positive act—an attempt to take control of her life, to act instead of passively allowing life to diminish her.
Thelma Cates, Jessie’s mother, a woman in her late fifties or early sixties who possesses a mental sturdiness that allows her to believe that things are what she says they are. Before the evening on which the play takes place, no one has challenged her beliefs. She denied Jessie’s epilepsy, stating instead that Jessie simply suffered from “fits.” She is a...
(The entire section is 482 words.)