Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Jack is one of the main characters of the play. He and his wife, Nora, are the only married couple in the play, and they represent the ability of people to maintain a marriage during the conflict over Irish independence from Britain. Jack is a self-obsessed man who, despite being a bricklayer by trade, wants to have a command position in the Irish Citizen Army. In the first act, he is upset about being removed from command and doesn’t want to participate in the conflict if he cannot be in charge. Jack is angry to learn that his wife keeps the information that he is a commandant from him. He is rejuvenated by the news and heads off to fight. He is killed in the conflict, and Brennan describes his death as a heroic action, saying,
I took me chance as well as him. . . . He took it like a man. His last whisper was to “Tell Nora to be brave; that I'm ready to meet my God, an' that I'm proud to die for Ireland.” (Act 4)
Jack’s choice to go out and fight is directly against Nora’s wishes. She wants to have a family and home, and Jack’s involvement in the war directly threatens that vision. His “heroic death” is no consolation.
Nora is Jack’s pregnant wife. Much of the story revolves around her feelings about Jack and the conflict. Nora burns the letter that Jack receives informing him that he is a commandant. She says,
I burned it, I burned it! That's what I did with it. Is General Connolly an' th' Citizen Army goin' to be your only care? Is your home goin' to be only a place to rest in? Am I goin' to be only somethin' to provide merrymakin' at night for you? (Act 1)
Nora is a sympathetic character. Other characters see her actions—putting on lipstick and buying new clothes—as an attempt to keep her man. It is true that Nora uses her looks and new things to try and keep Jack at home, because losing him and her family is her worst fear. When news comes that Jack has died, Nora not only miscarries, but she also suffers a terrible psychotic break that ends with Bessie being shot at the window of the tenement.
Bessie is another major character in the play. She is portrayed as a contrarian and a drunk, but she is also one of the kindest characters in the play. Bessie is grieving the loss of her son, who is off fighting in the war, and that accounts for some of the anti-revolutionary ideas she espouses in the play.
Bessie is the character who ends up taking care of everyone else, including Mollser, the child dying of consumption, and Nora after her breakdown. Bessie eventually dies while trying to protect Nora as she runs toward the window. As she tries to pull Nora back, Bessie is pushed toward the window, where an English sniper shoots her twice.