The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Pelican opens in a living room with a chiffonier, a writing table, a chaise lounge with a purple-red lap rug, and a rocking chair. Mother, dressed in mourning clothes, listens to the music of Frédéric Chopin. She is bothered by the smell of funeral flowers and the sight of the chaise lounge, Father’s deathbed, but she cannot get rid of the furniture until the estate has been settled. Harboring a guilty conscience, she is bothered by a mysterious presence lingering outside the house and always wants the door shut. Although she believes that she has sacrificed for her children, she has needlessly scrimped on food and has refused to light fires, despite the fact that her husband earned a considerable sum of money. As a result, her children are weak and sickly, and Margaret, her cook, tired of ill treatment, threatens to leave. Mother, however, will not be needing Margaret, because Mother is going to live with her newly married daughter, Gerda, and her son-in-law, Axel, whom she likes. Margaret intimates that Mother’s devotion to Axel is more than platonic.

When Margaret has left, the son, Frederick, cold and drunk, comes in coughing. Mother accuses Frederick of being callous because he is concerned about his inheritance, yet she herself cannot understand why there is no will. She even tries to pry information out of Frederick. Frederick is an impoverished law student, but Mother will give him no money for warm clothes. Frederick, who has no love for his mother, accuses her of spending money on trips abroad and eating at fancy restaurants while depriving her family of necessities and feeding them food that either lacks nutritional value or is overseasoned. Throughout her argument with Frederick, Mother is still bothered by a presence outside the house, and she tells Frederick to take down his father’s portrait because it has evil eyes.

After Frederick leaves, Axel enters and is greeted warmly by Mother. Axel has been bored on his honeymoon with Gerda and remembers that at his wedding he danced with Mother and wrote her a poem, calling her a pelican. Most of all, however, Axel wants to know what has happened to the estate. They search the chiffonier and pull out a hidden document just when Gerda is knocking on the door. Gerda voices suspicions about the locked door, but Mother changes the subject. Axel and Gerda decide to live in the house with Mother. As they exit, the wind blows, papers fly, and a...

(The entire section is 997 words.)