Characters

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Characters Discussed

Arthur

Arthur, who first appears as an impoverished young art student. A poetic and visionary neurotic—like the playwright himself, whose first name he shares—Arthur is fascinated by the creative possibilities of pinball machines, an American invention that is a Parisian craze in the post-World War II era. He constantly thinks of ways to improve pinball games to make them seem new and challenging without really changing their basic principles. His interest brings him into contact with the tycoon who manufactures and leases the machines. Over the years, Arthur becomes hopelessly entrapped by the meaningless, time-wasting contraptions, using them as an escape from the emptiness of modern existence. For a while, he makes money from his creative contributions to the company, always referred to as “The Organization,” but he falls out of favor when his inspiration ceases. He is in love with Annette, but his impractical nature prevents him from earning an income that would make him a suitable husband. In the last act, Arthur, in his seventies, is an underpaid elementary school teacher who devotes his free time to playing the game of Ping-Pong with his friend Victor.

Victor

Victor, who as a young man is equally addicted to pinball machines but is more practical than Arthur. Victor is studying medicine; he later manages to get a medical license and establish a satisfactory practice. He continues to keep in touch with his friend Arthur and is still not free from pinball machines. He discovers that he can obtain patients by frequenting places where pinball machines are played. In the last act, he is an affluent retired physician whose only interest in life is playing Ping-Pong with Arthur. While overexerting himself during one of their heated, acrimonious contests, Victor suffers a heart attack and dies. In a sense, Victor is a more tragic character than Arthur because his life seems empty in spite of material success. He illustrates the playwright’s existentialist view that life itself is meaningless and absurd.

Annette

Annette, a slender and pretty woman who is often cold and irritable. She dislikes having to compete with machines for male attention. At one point, she denounces pinball machines and all meretricious, dehumanizing modern toys by saying, “They’re all the same in the long run, and you soon get used to them.” Over the years, she tries various occupations. She begins as an usherette at a motion picture theater, works briefly as a sales representative for the Organization, then works as a sales clerk at a shoe store, and finally becomes a manicurist. After she is killed in a traffic accident, it is revealed that she was having affairs with Arthur, Victor, and Sutter, deceiving each about the others. She symbolizes the type of calculating modern woman who uses sex to succeed but becomes another victim of the heartless, competitive socioeconomic system.

Mrs. Duranty

Mrs. Duranty, a small, unhappy woman in her sixties when the play opens. She exemplifies the middle-class entrepreneur who works hard and worships money but never gets ahead. She constantly complains about her aches and pains. When the play opens, she is operating a bar called, ironically, “The Good Hope,” where Victor and Arthur meet to play her pinball machine. Later, she invests in a public bathhouse; still later, she appears as the owner of a small dancing school. Like most of the characters in the play, Mrs. Duranty has a horizontal career illustrating the view that capitalism wastes human lives as well as labor and resources.

Sutter

Sutter, a middle-aged, self-important, high-pressure representative of the Organization. He devotes his life to promoting pinball machines...

(This entire section contains 770 words.)

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and makes a good income until advancing age and dog-eat-dog commercial competition wear him out. He ends up a failure who dreams of immigrating to the United States and becoming a business tycoon in that land of opportunity. Sutter also illustrates the idea that the individual is a victim of the political and social system but is also responsible for the perpetuation of that system.

The Old Man

The Old Man, sometimes referred to as Constantine, an old-fashioned, aggressive laissez-faire capitalist who heads the Organization. He too has dreams of greater financial success but loses out to better-financed, better-organized competitors and is a senile, embittered failure on his deathbed.

Roger

Roger, the Old Man’s secretary, a toady and stereotypical corporate “yes-man.” He has little intelligence or imagination and is hopelessly dependent on his employer’s favor. For a while, Roger makes a good income, which he spends on luxuries. He cannot adapt when the Organization flounders. He becomes yet another victim of the ruthless system.

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