Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
In act I of The River Niger, John and Mattie Williams prepare for the return home of their son Jeff, who has spent several years in the Air Force. As the play opens, Jeff's grandmother Wilhemina Brown, Mattie's mother, sneaks a drink from her hiding place in the kitchen. John and his friend Dr. Dudley Stanton share a drink and banter; their banter includes both crude insults and obvious expressions of loving camaraderie. Ann Vanderguild arrives at the Williams' house. She is a nurse in her twenties, from South Africa, who cared for Jeff in a hospital in Canada and has arrived without invitation or warning, hoping to get Jeff to marry her. Everyone perceives this right away, but the men are impressed by her physical attractiveness, and John reads aloud a poem he has written. When Jeff's mother and grandmother return home from shopping, Mattie is quickly won over by Ann's sincerity and charm, but Grandma immediately and openly disapproves of her.
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John and Dudley leave for the Apple, the local bar. Ann explains to Mattie that her father has been in prison in South Africa for the past nine years because her two brothers had been carrying out anti-government activities; her father took the blame so that her brothers could flee the country.
Ann and Mattie begin preparing dinner. Chips, a childhood friend of Jeff's, shows up at the door looking for Jeff. Chips is sexually aggressive toward Ann. That night, as Ann is sleeping in the living room, Mo and his friends—Chips, Skeeter, Al, and Mo's girlfriend Gail—members of a local revolutionary group, barge in looking for Jeff. They attempt to intimidate Ann, until John and Dudley arrive home from the bar, drunk, and John threatens them with a gun. After they leave, John and Dudley share another drink in the kitchen, while Jeff sneaks in and awakens Ann, who is sleeping in the living room. The two have sex, then Jeff sneaks up to his bedroom.