Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
Eugene Hartigan is a rough Irish bill collector who calls on Mrs. Rogers to obtain her payment of a debt for the wall unit she keeps in her house. In the allegory of the play, he stands for Ireland, and, more specifically, for those Irish rebels who sought to drive the British out of their country. Far from extracting payment from Mrs. Rogers, he ends up being exploited by her as her unpaid au pair man and sexual slave. In part, he finds himself in this position because his sensitivity about being working-class and discriminated against makes him so eager for acceptance that he pushes his way into a job that can offer him nothing. Though Eugene is not unintelligent, he is naïve and always one step behind Mrs. Rogers. He is ambitious, but while at first he believes that working for her could be a route to advancement, he soon finds out that there is no reward in the job apart from acquiring some of the manners and diction of an Englishman. Though at the beginning of act 3 he believes he is forging a life for himself independently of Mrs. Rogers, her power over his fiancée, Rose, means that he cannot escape her clutches.
Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers
Mrs. Rogers is a wealthy English lady who lives in a crumbling house in London. In the allegory of the play, she stands for Britain, and her house is the declining British Empire. She is a lascivious middle-aged woman whose husband (if he really exists) is generally abroad selling his colonial stamp collection. She co-opts Eugene into her service as an unpaid au pair man, or, as it turns out, a sexual slave and general drudge. Alternately charming, cruel, insulting, and terrifying, she seduces, threatens, and coerces Eugene into doing her will. When crossed, she flies into a rage, calling in the police or attacking Eugene physically. Mrs. Rogers is a staunch monarchist whose doorbell chimes the English national anthem and who expects Eugene to toast the royal family when he drinks. Seemingly without scruples, she never has any intention of paying for the wall unit that holds up her house. Throughout, she pursues only her own interests, though she hypocritically claims that she is helping Eugene by teaching him refined English manners. To her, it is the veneer of civilization that matters; she is oblivious to the deeper humanitarian values.
Rose does not appear in the play in person. She is a young person whom Eugene meets and hopes to marry. Eugene is aware that she is a member of a wealthy family that owns several large houses and travels between them shooting game. What he does not know, until Mrs. Rogers informs him, is that Rose is her relative and that the family receives its vast allowance from her. In the allegory of the play, Rose stands for Northern Ireland.
Matthew Wilson does not appear in the play in person. He is a former employee of Weatherby and Fitch who disappears after being sent on an initiative test to collect on Mrs. Rogers’s debt. He reappears some time later, looking emaciated and worn out, after having been co-opted as Mrs. Rogers’s sexual slave. His successor in the post is Eugene.
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