Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 611
Nancy, a middle-aged, well-to-do woman with an immeasurable love for life, adventure, and romance. Acutely aware of the time lost rearing a family, she views the remainder of her life positively and wants to fill those years by embracing all life has to offer, preferring to enjoy the beautiful expanse of the outdoors by trekking from beach to beach rather than staying in the stultifying confines of a retirement home. In conflict with her husband, who refuses to take part in any of her suggested recreations, Nancy, to no avail, takes various tacks (cajolery, mockery, and anger) against him to force him into activity. Her opportunity for excitement and purpose materializes with the arrival of Leslie and Sarah. She is able to share with them her innate inquisitiveness, ebullience, and compassion as she eagerly and openly explains to them the vagaries of the human condition.
Charlie, Nancy’s retired middle-aged husband. The antithesis to Nancy, Charlie resists change and wants nothing of adventure. His lifelong propensity for isolation, evident in his childhood memories of sinking to the sea’s bottom and relishing its peace and solitude, now reaches a crisis as he, painfully aware of his own mortality and cynically viewing his active life as passed, prefers spending his retirement doing absolutely nothing as if stoically awaiting inevitable death. His self-imposed detachment from life is ended abruptly, however, with the intrusion of the two anthropomorphic sea creatures. He is initially frightened and prepared to fight these strange saurians, but by the play’s conclusion he reaches an epiphany. Brought out of his moribund state through his interaction with the reptiles, Charlie not only transforms into a vibrant, compassionate, and active man but also unites finally with his wife in the humane and extraordinary task of teaching the childlike creatures how to survive and exist in humankind’s world.
Leslie, an anthropomorphic male lizard who, inexplicably, speaks fluent English and is conversant in metaphysics. Like Charlie, he is suspicious of strangers and always on his guard. Unlike Charlie, however, his dissatisfaction with a static and familiar life had forced him into action; he came out of the sea to explore the unknown in search of a better world. Leslie symbolizes primordial humanity with all of his animal instincts but lacks both knowledge of self and an awareness of loss and death. Leslie acquires this self-knowledge by the end of the play, when Charlie goads Sarah into crying so that he can explain the experience of human emotions; Leslie flies into a rage for the first time in his life, crossing the boundary between brute beast and human. This transformation, this acquired knowledge of human experience and emotions, mandates that Leslie (like Charlie in his childhood) can never return to the peace and safety at the bottom of the sea and must, for better or worse, continue on land in life’s evolutionary process.
Sarah, Leslie’s reptilian spouse. She shares Leslie’s feelings of displacement in the sea and longing for something better, but she has none of his cynicism. More akin to Nancy, Sarah is open, candid, and eager to learn and share experiences. Although at times she is a satire on the domineering wife, she is kind, gentle, and the more childlike of the two reptiles. It is her keen sensitivity that enables her, when asked by Charlie what she would do if Leslie disappeared and never returned, to be the first of the two to experience human emotion. The humanlike tears that she sheds kindle Leslie’s wrath and take them both to the symbolic threshold of humanity’s first and cardinal evolutionary step: self-enlightenment.