Characters Discussed

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The Chief of Police

The Chief of Police, the quintessential bureaucrat. Faced with the fact that the last political prisoner in his state has reformed and must be released, the Chief despairs, realizing that he no longer has a function. He questions the Prisoner’s sincerity, then tries to persuade him that he does not really want to reform or that he would be better off in prison. When all these efforts fail, the Chief is forced to find another way of maintaining his position. He appeals to his deputy, a sergeant who functions as an agent-provocateur, arguing that they need to find another dissenter if they are to keep their jobs. The Sergeant agrees to be imprisoned as a dissenter. When the General comes to see the new prisoner, the Chief finds himself in the difficult position of wanting to protect the Sergeant, whom he does not consider a real political prisoner, while appearing to be zealous in his pursuit of justice.

The Prisoner

The Prisoner, a former revolutionary, later the General’s aide-de-camp. When negotiating his release, the Prisoner claims vigorously that he has reformed, that he now loves his country and its rulers. So persuasive is he that he ultimately secures a position as aide-de-camp to the General and returns with the General to the prison. As an expert in dissidence, the Prisoner is asked to interrogate the Sergeant to see if he is truly a dissident. When the Prisoner concludes that the Sergeant is indeed a genuine dissident, the Chief demands that he prove his case. He does so by proposing an experiment in which the Sergeant will be given the opportunity to throw a bomb at the General, which the Sergeant does. When the Chief arrests the Prisoner for having conspired to throw a bomb at the General, the Prisoner in turn places the Chief under arrest for having failed to protect the General.

The Police Sergeant

The Police Sergeant, an agent-provocateur. The Sergeant hates his work as a plainclothes officer not only because he has had no success in drumming up dissent through his provocations but also because he loves the police force so much that he is comfortable only when wearing his uniform. When he has to work in plain clothes, he slips on his uniform at home to relax after a day on the job. Devastated at the thought of having to give up the work he loves, he agrees to the Chief’s scheme and provokes dissent within himself. After being locked in prison, the Sergeant starts to lose his sense of identity and becomes confused as to whether he is a policeman pretending to be a dissenter or a genuine dissenter. The more he thinks about his country’s circumstances while in his cell, the more reason for dissent he perceives. Although he says that he would never throw a bomb at the General despite his political doubts, when the opportunity arises, he does just that. At curtain, the Sergeant seems to have become a full-blown revolutionary.

The General

The General, an archetypal military man. He comes to see the Sergeant in prison to evaluate how serious a threat he poses. After being told that there is no evidence that the Sergeant is a dissident, the General opines that he must therefore be a particularly dangerous one. He has absolute confidence in his aide, despite his past, believing that his days of dissent are behind him. While talking with the Chief, the General begins to suspect that the Chief wants to protect the Sergeant and accuses the Chief of lack of diligence. The General...

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agrees to the bomb-throwing experiment but hides in a closet during it. When he emerges, he places both the Prisoner and the Chief under arrest for conspiring in the bomb-throwing.

The Wife of the Sergeant-Provocateur

The Wife of the Sergeant-Provocateur, a representative of the unthinking citizenry. She expresses her concern over her husband’s state of mind to the Chief, telling him how gloomy the Sergeant has become now that no one responds to his provocations and asking the Chief to return him to uniformed duty. She also mentions that she met her husband when each reported the other to the secret police.




Critical Essays