Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 952
Margaret is one-half of one character who appears in this play. She is the refined, cultured part of herself, just as Harriet is. She is the ego. In addition, Margaret shares many other similarities with Harriet. She is in a desperate situation from which she longs to escape. Margaret is married to the painter John Caldwell. The two of them have just returned from eight years in Paris, where John tried to make his mark as an artist. He was unsuccessful, however, and they are now forced to live in poverty while John makes his living drawing advertisements. Margaret loves John, but the benefits of this have been overshadowed by the severe poverty in which they are forced to live. Margaret is desperately hungry and longs for the food and fine things that wealth can bring. She is willing to give up love for money.
John’s name also gives a clue as to Margaret’s relationship with him. John is called well. In other words, while it may seem prestigious and glamorous to be married to an artist, the reality is not as good as it sounds. To say you are an artist’s wife is exciting. To live it is horrible. Just as Harriet must work to control her baser instincts, so must Margaret. Margaret’s lavender gown connects her with Maggie, who wears a dark purple gown. The two together represent one complete person.
On the surface Harriet is a cultured society lady who is married to the very wealthy Charles Goodrich. She has a beautiful house, a car, a chauffeur, wonderful food, and all of the fine trappings that wealth can provide. She presents an air of being extremely happy and content. This is all a façade, however. Deep down, Harriet does not love Charles and she is in despair over being trapped in her current situation. She hates her marriage to Charles because it only provides a life of comfort and wealth. There is no passion. Harriet married her husband for the money and that is all she got. His name even indicates what he represents to her: Charles is only good because he is rich. Harriet secretly longs to escape her current situation and to rekindle the passion of her earlier relationship with John Caldwell, a man whom she believes to be the true love of her life. Harriet grew up in the same town as John. The two dated in her youth, and she has been in love with him ever since.
At the time they dated, John was an aspiring painter. He actually proposed to Harriet, but she turned him down because she was afraid his desire to be an artist would lead to a life of poverty and hardship. She has never lost her desire for John, however, and is now deeply jealous of Margaret’s marriage to him. Harriet (with Hetty) is actually one-half of one of the characters presented in this play. She represents only the ego portion of this character. She is the person that is presented to the outside world, the cultured, polite woman that everyone expects this character to be. She is the part that has been molded by society and taught how to behave. Harriet wears a green gown, which represents the jealousy that runs deep within her.
Hetty is Harriet’s counterpart. She is not a complete person, but is the other half of Harriet’s personality. Hetty embodies the wild, untamed desires and wants that live deep within Harriet. She represents her true feelings. Hetty is able to see beyond the courteous everyday conversation that takes place when people talk to one another. She understands that deep down people are vicious and self-serving and that they just cover this up for the sake of appearing humane. Hetty has little patience for these polite games that human beings play with each other. Because she has not been cultured and refined by society, she operates on a very basic level. She is the id portion of Harriet’s character.
Hetty has the ability to be violent and cruel and is willing to do almost anything to get what she wants. She desperately wants Harriet to succeed in regaining John and will use any means necessary to convince Harriet to act upon her desires. Harriet’s sense of propriety and decorum is all that keeps Hetty’s unsociable behavior in check. Hetty is always present, and Harriet must consciously work to keep control of her. If Hetty was ever able to completely overcome Harriet, she would be deemed unfit for society and would probably be locked away. Hetty wears a gown of deep green, which reflects her connection to Harriet. The deeper color signifies the harsher, baser emotions she represents.
Maggie is Margaret’s darker half. She is the instinctual, desire-driven force who constantly prods Margaret to go after what she truly wants. It is Maggie who has brought Margaret to the meeting with Harriet in order to carry out her plan of getting Harriet to order a portrait. Maggie is Margaret’s id, and she operates on a primitive level, just as Hetty does. Maggie is not afraid of confrontation. She will do whatever is necessary to get what she wants. During the play, Maggie’s actions are governed primarily by hunger and her need for food. Just as Harriet must be careful to keep Hetty in check, Margaret must work to do the same with Maggie. If Margaret lets her guard down for a moment and forgets the rules of social etiquette, Maggie will overcome her and drive her to behave in a way that might be considered insane.
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