Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570
Len, a twenty-one-year-old working-class lodger. Described as “naturally good” in spite of the brutalizing environment in which he lives, he is an outsider both in regard to the home in which he lives and to the gang of unemployed toughs who congregate in the park. As he moves between the violence of the family and that of the gang, he functions as a theatrical device, highlighting the parallels between the public and the private displays of senseless violence and empty, cliché-littered language. He is the only character in the play who displays nurturing, caring capabilities, and he remains ineffectual in affecting or moderating the actions of the other characters.
Pam, the twenty-three-year-old mother of an illegitimate child, to whom she refers only as “it.” Numbed by the constant arguments in her home, by poverty, by drink, and by watching television, she is filled with a kind of hopeless cynicism that is in sharp contrast to Len’s seemingly unwarranted optimism about making things better. She can feel only lust and not love, reacting to Len’s affection with hostility and to Fred’s abandonment with desperation. Even the death of her child does not touch her. She is as much a victim of society as her child is, and her inability to feel is a product of that influence rather than of any innate difficulty.
Mary, the fifty-three-year-old mother of Pam, trapped in a loveless, empty, and trivial marriage with a husband who rarely speaks, and then never to her. She assuages her sexual frustration by openly going out to meet other men and by flirting with Len. Like Pam, she has no maternal feelings. The years she has spent in this environment have left her with a simmering rage, which she directs against Harry.
Harry, the sixty-eight-year-old father of Pam. An older version of Len, he is also on the outside looking in. He spies on all the sexual encounters in the house, never interfering or reacting until he catches Mary trying to seduce Len. Generally a taciturn character, he does explain to Len why he puts up with everything: He will allow neither his wife nor his daughter to drive him from his home, the only secure place that he has. It is little enough, but it is all he has.
Fred, Pam’s present lover, a good-looking twenty-one-year-old. As one of the leaders of the gang of unemployed young men, he is goaded into throwing the first stone at the baby, a crime for which he spends time in jail. Although he demonstrates more feeling than the other men in his gang—for example, he has a tenuous friendship with Len, he is reluctant to tell Pam directly that he is sick of her constant pleas for attention, and he initially defends the baby—eventually he reacts with violence and cruelty. He also is a victim of a society that robs him of his manhood by denying him work and dignity.
Barry, a gang of young “roughs,” ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-five. Filled with rage against society and totally lacking abstract moral qualities, they redirect their hostility by stoning Pam’s baby to death. These are clearly the least sympathetic characters in the play, yet they, too, are driven to this act by the economic and material deprivations of their class.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805
Barry Barry, age twenty and described as a little below medium height and fat, is one of the workingclass louts who hang around together in South London. There is little...
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to distinguish Barry from his friends, but it is he who leads the assault on the baby in scene six and who throws the last stone at the baby at point blank range.
Colin Colin, age eighteen, has ‘‘shiny ears, curved featureless face’’ and ‘‘shouts to make himself heard.’’ He is one of the group of male workingclass layabouts centered around Fred.
Fred Fred, age twenty-one, blond, good looking, and powerfully built, is the man Pam becomes obsessed with and who she claims is the father of her baby. Although he is only one of the gang that murders the baby in the park, Fred is the one who is charged and who goes to jail. Still, Fred feels he is not guilty of a crime because ‘‘It were only a kid.’’ Fred, like the others, is never able to see the baby as a human being. Women are very attracted to Fred and he has a new woman, Liz, waiting for him when he is released from jail.
Harry Harry, Pam’s father and Mary’s husband, is silent for most of the play. Harry fought in World War II and now holds a non-descript night job. He and Mary have not spoken for years, and when they do speak it is to engage in a violent row in which Mary breaks a teapot on Harry’s head. Near the end of the play, Harry does open up to a certain degree with Len and begs him not to move out of the house.
Len Len is the central character of the play. He is twenty-one, ‘‘tall, slim, firm, bony,’’ and he works at various jobs as a laborer. Pam brings him home to have sex in scene one and he stays as a boarder. Len is good natured and determined to be helpful, even to the extent of trying to reconcile Fred with Pam, even though he is still in love with Pam himself. Len is not a noble character he is a product of his society, which does not allow nobility and he does not rise above the arid culture of his South London working class background. Len does, however, hold on to his human values of compassion and tolerance, and he does refuse to surrender to the bleak spiritual and moral degradation of the other characters.
Liz Liz, who appears in only one scene, is an empty slut who is awaiting Fred when he is released from prison.
Mary Mary, Pam’s mother, is fifty-three, short with bulky breasts, big thighs, and ‘‘curled gray hair that looks as if it is in a hair-net. Homely.’’ She and her husband Harry have not spoken for many years, though neither seems to remember the cause. Mary is not a warm mother-figure, however. She claims to feel pity for the crying baby but does nothing to comfort it; she bashes Harry on the head with a teapot; she partakes in a highly sexual scene with Len. She is as empty of human values as her daughter, Pam.
Mike Mike is another of the gang of inarticulate louts and is practically indistinguishable from his mates.
Pam Pam, age twenty-three, is the central female character in the play. She seduces Len in the livingroom of the flat she shares with her parents, Harry and Mary. She is unperturbed when her father comes into the room. Although Len falls in love with her and stays on as a boarder, Pam quickly tires of Len and falls for Fred. She takes Fred to her room for sex, knowing that the rest of the family, including Len, are listening. She has a baby, claiming Fred as the father, but never recognizes it as human. She apparently feels no remorse when the baby is murdered and remains obsessed with Fred. She meets him on his release from prison, offers him her room to stay in, and is rejected. Pam is the epitome of those whom Max Le Blond in the Dictionary of Literary Biography says are ‘‘condemned to crawl like lice on the underbelly of the welfare state.’’ She ends the play in silence, studying her Radio Times and dumbly facing an empty future which she is too inarticulate to contemplate.
Pete Pete, at age twenty-five, is the oldest of the gang of louts and represents the epitome of their aspirations. His only real distinction is that he has killed a boy with his truck, an act that he claims to have committed deliberately. He seeks admiration from the rest of the group and he receives that admiration. He initiates much of the brutality in the murder of the baby.