Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 641
Hal Carter, a young vagabond. Hal is a powerfully built drifter, a former college athlete reluctantly aware that he must find himself a job and a place in the world or be a drifter all of his life. Hal joins a Labor Day picnic at the invitation of his former college roommate, Alan Seymour. He escorts Millie, the bookwormish younger sister of the town beauty, Madge, to the envy of Rosemary, the aging schoolteacher who rooms with the Owenses. Hal’s presence creates havoc in the lives of the picnickers, especially the women.
Madge Owens, a beautiful woman. Hal’s meeting with Madge, the town beauty, has an electric tension even though they are not certain of their immediate attraction for each other. Madge knows only that she is even less certain that she wants to marry Alan, even though she is being pushed into it by her mother, Flo Owens.
Millie Owens, the highly intelligent, uninhibited younger sister of Madge. Millie has won a scholarship to the state university but knows very little about attracting members of the opposite sex. Ultimately, it is Millie who gives Madge the courage to follow Hal by stating, “For once in your life, do something bright.”
Flo Owens, the attractive mother of Madge and Millie. She rents rooms in her home to schoolteachers. Flo was deserted by her husband many years ago, and Hal reminds her of her husband, who could not accept life’s responsibilities. She wants Madge to marry dependable Alan Seymour and live the safe, secure life that she never knew.
Helen Potts, the neighbor lady whom Hal asks if he may do some yard chores in return for breakfast. Helen is friendly and outgoing but is a resilient woman. She still cares for her invalid mother, who, years ago, had her brief marriage annulled.
Rosemary Sydney, a schoolteacher who boards at the Owenses’ home and has been dating Howard Bevans, an unromantic shopkeeper whose attentions are desperately welcomed by the frustrated schoolteacher. Rosemary cannot face the obvious absorption of Hal and Madge in each other at the picnic and the breathlessness with which they dance together. Unable to share their mood, Rosemary creates a scene that forces Hal to flee the picnic. Madge follows him into the night, despite his warning that he is no good for her.
Alan Seymour, Madge’s boyfriend, who is the son of a wealthy local businessman. Alan is the former college roommate of Hal, who was a football star until he flunked out. Hal comes to town as a man who is running out of options; he hopes to land a job with Alan’s help, even though they have not seen each other for many years.
Howard Bevans, a mild-mannered small-town businessman who is a bachelor approaching middle age. He has been going out with Rosemary for many years without proposing marriage. After the Labor Day picnic, Rosemary abandons her feigned indifference to marriage and begs Howard to marry her. Howard gives her lame excuses, but the next morning she announces in front of other people that they are to be married, so he has little choice. Rosemary’s moment of triumph occurs when she rides off with Howard for an Ozark marriage and honeymoon.
Bomber, the paperboy, who crudely lusts after Madge. Millie constantly conflicts with his adolescent desires and Madge simply tries to ignore him.
Irma Kronkite, a schoolteacher friend of Rosemary who is also an unmarried woman, just returning from a “wicked” vacation in New York. She has visited the Stork Club. She was supposed to be concentrating on a master’s degree in education at Columbia University.
Christine Schoenwalder, a new schoolteacher in town who teaches “feminine hygiene.”
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(The entire section contains 1722 words.)
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