Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1649
Assunta is a wise old woman who sells herbal and other remedies to the local Sicilian American population, and she appears to be Serafina’s only true friend. She listens to Serafina boast and rant, gives her advice, helps her in times of need, and ignores her when she is rude.
Bessie, along with her counterpart Flora, is described in Williams’s stage notes as a ‘‘clown’’ of middle age and ‘‘juvenile temperament.’’ She has commissioned some sewing from Serafina, and, when she finds it is not finished on the day promised, she becomes angry and informs Serafina about Serafina’s husband’s infidelity. As far as Serafina is concerned, Flora and her friend are man-chasers and generally immoral.
Bruno is one of a group of small children who appear on and off again in the play. These children have small speaking parts, but they are a significant presence on stage, as they convey the way that the play’s celebration of life rests on more than a celebration of love, sexuality, and passion. Their wild, free, and innocent play conveys a sense of life that is essentially creative and pure.
Father De Leo
Father De Leo is a stock representation of a good priest in the play. He appears during moments when Serafina is behaving in an antisocial and selfdestructive manner, with the goal of bringing her back into the fold and making her see reason. He is a character defined by his profession, a priest who sees his role as the care of his community.
Rosa Delle Rose
Rosa is Serafina’s daughter. She has inherited her father’s startling good looks, and, like her mother, she is passionate. She is also quite precocious for her age, as she is certain about her love for Jack Hunter despite her tender age of fifteen.
While Rosa is genuinely fond of her mother, they are quite different in many respects. Much of their difference rests on Rosa’s having been conventionally educated in the United States, whereas Serafina retains the culture of her peasant Sicilian background.
Rosario Delle Rose
Rosario, Serafina’s husband, never appears on stage, but he is an important element in the play. Serafina talks of him being extremely good-looking, very manly, and a great lover. This combination of attributes contributes to the play’s celebration of the beauty of life, love, sexuality, and passion.
Rosario’s character also conveys a cautionary message, because he is deceitful. He fools Serafina into thinking that she is his only love and smuggles illegal goods under the cover of his legitimate trucking operation. The duplicity of his character points to Serafina’s task in the play. She must distinguish between that which truly deserves worship and that which does not.
Serafina Delle Rose
Serafina is the play’s main character, a woman whose problem is her untoward worship of her husband and, by extension, of herself. She begins the play boasting of her husband Rosario’s beauty, virility, and love for her, while the neighborhood knows he is having an affair with Estelle Hohengarten. Serafina’s boastfulness and ignorance of Rosario’s true character make her an object of fun. However, since she is a sympathetic character and one whose boasting revolves around things relating to love and passion, her character contributes to the play’s celebration of the life.
Rosario is killed at the play’s start, and in the three years that separate the play’s opening and concluding events, Serafina has continued to worship her husband and the memories she has of him. This unhealthy, excessive mourning has quelled Serafina’s nature, which is passionate and revels in life, not death.
Serafina regains her lust for life when she learns the truth about her husband and a new man, the character Alvaro, enters her life. She also learns an important lesson in discovering her husband’s deception, which is that nobody, including herself, is perfect.
Whatever Serafina does, she does to excess: at the play’s start she is overdressed; in the middle of the play, when she is unhappy, she is slovenly. When she loves, she worships; when she is happy or angry, the whole neighborhood knows.
The Doctor appears only once in the play, to tend to Serafina after she learns of her husband’s death. The conversation he has with Father De Leo at this time is significant, because it underscores the play’s focus on the sacred nature of life and love. As Father De Leo rightly worries whether Serafina will funnel her worship of her husband into a worship of his memory, the doctor cannot understand how this could ever be a problem. The doctor’s inability to understand Serafina suggests his utterly profane nature. This man of science believes only in the facts of the physical world, where Father De Leo and Serafina are imbued with a spiritual sense that certain things are sacred.
Flora is Bessie’s friend and accompanies her to Serafina’s house to pick up a blouse. Flora is dismayed when Bessie tells Serafina about Rosario’s cheating. For this reason, she seems kinder than the more hotheaded Bessie.
Giuseppina, along with Peppina and Mariella, is a neighborhood woman who interacts minimally with Serafina. Giuseppina and these women appear on stage mainly to comment on the play’s events, most especially on Serafina’s follies. Their role in the play is much like the role of the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy; they are a group of figures whose purpose is to reflect on unfolding events from the sidelines. This commentary either reiterates what is happening for dramatic effect or else conveys the point of view of the community at large. Giuseppina and her counterparts make up a comedic as opposed to a tragic chorus of women, since their point of view conveys how much the community takes delight in Serafina’s misadventures. Serafina’s misfortunes afford these onlookers pleasure because her pride and arrogance offends them.
Estelle is the woman whom Serafina learns was having an affair with her husband. Estelle appears on stage only twice, both times briefly. She is a foil or contrast to Serafina in the way she symbolizes death and order where Serafina symbolizes life and chaos. Estelle is austere in both person and dress, in contrast to Serafina’s excess and love of decoration. Estelle is a blackjack dealer at the local casino, which is where, presumably, she and Rosario originally meet.
Jack Hunter is the young man with whom Rosa is in love. He is a sailor and one of her school friend’s brothers. Serafina is suspicious about his intentions in regards to her daughter, but he appears to be as much in love with Rosa as she is with him.
Alvaro is a Sicilian immigrant who appears in Serafina’s life three years after her husband’s death, and Serafina and he fall in love. Like Serafina’s dead husband, Alvaro is a handsome truck driver who delivers bananas. Unlike her husband, he is clownish in his behavior. Yet, he is likeable. He wishes to be married to someone like Serafina who busies herself making money, as he himself is dedicated to work and has three dependents (a mother, father, and sister).
At first, Alvaro’s nature repels Serafina, but she quickly comes to appreciate his good qualities, one of which is his admiration for her. Alvaro’s last name, Mangiacavallo, means, roughly, ‘‘to eat a horse,’’ symbolizing his great lust for life.
Alvaro’s similarity to and difference from Rosario is significant and indicates Serafina’s development in the play. Since Serafina meets Alvaro after she learns about her husband’s deceit, she sees Alvaro as he really is, ordinary, as opposed to how she saw her husband, perfect. In other words, Alvaro’s character is as much a product of Serafina’s point of view as it is a product of his own qualities. If she were still deluded as to the true nature of her husband, she might have seen Alvaro as another god, as her husband’s reincarnation.
Mariella is a neighborhood woman who, along with Giuseppina and Peppina, comments on Sera- fina’s actions and conveys the point of view of the local Sicilian American community at large. The group’s commentary heightens the drama and comedy of the play by emphasizing particularly important and ridiculous turns of event.
Like Mariella and Giuseppina, Peppina is a neighborhood woman who functions to comment on Serafina’s actions. She and they believe that Serafina needs to learn humility and so they are not overly concerned when Serafina suffers.
The salesman appears only once in the play and serves to demonstrate how Italian immigrants were subject to poor treatment. As he is trying to sell his wares to Serafina, Alvaro appears on the scene explaining how the man forced his truck off the highway, for no good reason, uttering ethnic slurs in the process. This suggests the salesman’s hypocrisy. He is polite to immigrants to whom he is trying to sell goods, but at the same time he secretly despises them.
The strega is the old woman who lives next to Serafina and whose goat always strays into her yard. Serafina is convinced the old woman is a witch, despite Rosa’s insistence that she is being superstitious. Every time Serafina sees the strega, she makes a special gesture to protect herself against the woman’s supposed evil powers, which affords the old woman a great deal of malicious pleasure. The woman’s maliciousness is evinced also in her frequent disparaging comments about the doings of the ‘‘wops’’ who live around her. The word ‘‘wop’’ was an ethnic slur for Italian immigrants at the time.
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