The Secret Rapture

by David Hare

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2515

Marion French Marion is Isobel Glass’s older sister and one of the play’s important antagonists. Somewhere in her late thirties, Marion has climbed the ladder of British politics and secured herself a position as a junior minister for the Department of the Environment in Britain’s Conservative Party. In the 1980s, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives (or ‘‘Tories,’’ as they are called in Britain) earned a reputation for greed and a lack of concern for social issues such as poverty, homelessness, and the environment. Like the political party she belongs to, Marion seems interested mainly in money and power and unconcerned with the welfare of others.

While Isobel spent a great deal of time caring for their father in the weeks before his death, Marion only visited occasionally. In place of concern and affection, she tried to show him that she loved him by buying him an expensive ring. Then, just hours after his death, she returned to take it back. She is a workaholic and takes business calls even in the middle of family crises. As her husband, Tom, observes, she seems to have everything she could want, including a prominent position in a successful government; nevertheless, she is constantly angry and lashing out at others. She loses her temper with Isobel many times in the play and even scolds her husband now and then. When she is visited by members of the Green Party, a political group interested in the environment and stopping the use of nuclear energy, she viciously tells them, ‘‘Come back and see me when you’re glowing in the dark.’’

As some critics pointed out, Marion’s character is so one-sided that she is in danger of becoming just a walking stereotype of Thatcher’s England. As much as anyone else in the play, Marion drives Isobel toward her tragic end by taking advantage of her, playing on her conscience, and abusing her. She seems to hate Isobel for her goodness and for not being like everyone else in the world— concerned mainly with self-interest. Marion admits that she lacks the passion other people, like Isobel, seem to have for the world and does not understand what motivates them if not materialism or power. In the end, though, Marion seems changed by Isobel’s death. In the final scene, she does not wear the conservative business suits she has appeared in throughout the play but a simple black mourning dress. She declines to take a business call from her department and, in her one moment of physical passion, embraces and kisses her husband before he leaves for Isobel’s funeral. The final words of the play are hers: ‘‘We’re just beginning,’’ she laments. ‘‘Isobel, why don’t you come home?’’

Tom French Tom is Marion’s husband and acts mainly as a foil to the female characters in the play. In literature, a foil is a character that illustrates, mainly through contrast, the important traits of other characters. For example, Tom seems soft-spoken and sometimes overeager to please. When Marion and Isobel are quarreling, rather than taking sides, he tells them, ‘‘I’m sure both of you are right.’’ By contrast, Marion and Katherine are loud, brash, and highly opinionated. Tom has a head for business and makes a lot of money in investments and new ventures. Isobel, on the other hand, is afraid of risk and is more interested in doing quality work with her small graphics firm than in growing it just to make money.

Tom’s most defining characteristic, however, is his religious faith. Some of his first words in the play are words of comfort spoken to Isobel...

(This entire section contains 2515 words.)

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just after her father’s death. ‘‘He’s fine,’’ Tom tells her. ‘‘He’s in the hands of the Lord.’’ Tom claims his steady manner and his business success are the result of welcoming Jesus into his life. He even thinks that Jesus helped him repair his car when it was broken, and he builds a pool in his backyard just for baptisms, to convert others to his faith.

As the president of Christians in Business, Tom claims he tries to do business ‘‘the way Jesus would have done it.’’ However, his practices seem to be something less than charitable. He and Marion convince Isobel to accept investment money for her small graphics design company so that it can grow larger. They reason that the expansion will allow them all to make some of the money that everyone else is making in Britain in the 1980s, while at the same time giving Katherine a solid position and a chance to start her life again. Then, when the company starts to fail, Tom lays off all the new workers, giving them just a few weeks’ worth of wages and sells off their new office space for a large profit. On top of that, it turns out that he is writing the whole investment off as a tax break. Instead of losing money, he actually makes quite a bit, while Isobel loses her business and many people lose their jobs.

Like Marion and Katherine, Tom seems to be deeply affected by Isobel’s death. As he helps the two women restore Robert Glass’s house on the day of Isobel’s funeral, he tries to comfort his wife the way he tried to comfort Isobel in the first scene. ‘‘The Lord Jesus . . .’’ he begins to say, but his voice trails off, and he admits that he has ‘‘slightly lost touch with the Lord Jesus.’’

Isobel Glass Isobel is by far the most complicated character in The Secret Rapture. She is relatively young, somewhere in her early thirties, and modestly successful. She owns her own graphic design firm, with two other employees. Unlike her sister, Marion, Isobel is not interested in making a lot of money or in the politics of the popular Conservative Party government. Instead, she is interested in living a simple life, doing what is right, and helping people in need whenever she can.

Her determined sense of morality led some critics of the play to dub her ‘‘Saint Isobel,’’ and even the other characters remark, not always kindly, on her almost other-worldly virtue. Her actions do seem to be those of a saint. She stays with her father to care for him in his final days. When he dies, she takes the abusive Katherine under her wing, providing her with a job and unlimited chances to redeem herself. She accepts mistreatment from Marion and the loss of her business through Tom’s treacherous business dealings, without passing judgment on either of them. The only person she hurts in the play is Irwin, though even that action seems based on a moral decision: he has betrayed her, and she does not think it would be fair to him to continue to pretend that she loves him.

Besides her complicated morality, Isobel’s character is also difficult because of her role as the play’s tragic protagonist. As some critics noted, her suffering and downfall should generate sympathy, but she is often such a strong character that it is hard to believe she is the victim. Writing for the Times Literary Supplement, John Turner observed, ‘‘Isobel, with her amazing and admirable verbal ferocity, is winning too much of the time to excite pity.’’ Turner notes that Isobel easily dispatches Rhonda when she finds her dallying with Irwin in their office and that she boldly faces the homicidal Irwin, even hurling insults at him, just before he kills her.

Matt Wolf, another critic, suggested that Isobel suffers the fate, not just of a tragic heroine, but of a martyr. ‘‘It’s no accident that Isobel’s surname is ‘Glass,’’’ Wolf pointed out in a review of the play in the Wall Street Journal, European Edition. ‘‘As the tragic outcome of the play makes clear, she holds the mirror up to the baseness of those around her, even at the cost of her own life.’’

In the end, it is only Isobel’s sacrifice that changes the other characters in the play. Her death causes Tom to question his relationship with Jesus and causes her sister, Marion, to finally feel some passion and connection to another person. Much like a saint who performed good deeds in life only to be killed for his actions, Isobel’s love and morality begins to have an effect only after she is gone.

Katherine Glass Katherine is the young, unstable, alcoholic widow of Robert Glass. As she admits to the other characters in the play several times, she had no direction in her life before she met Robert. She was a drug and alcohol abuser. She had never held a real job, and her relationships with men revolved around brief sexual experiences, possibly even prostitution. Ever since she was a child, Katherine has felt inferior to those around her. As a result, she tends to act out in unusual, sometimes alarming or even dangerous ways.

Robert, she claims, turned her life around and gave her a sense of purpose and dignity for the first time. As a result of Robert’s death, Katherine is alone again, and she must turn to the others for support. Katherine is not a sympathetic character; there is very little to like about her. Because of her neediness and her erratic behavior, though, she becomes the play’s central motivating character. She sets in motion all of the play’s action.

Katherine begins by taking advantage of Isobel’s loyalty to her dead father. She convinces Isobel to give her a job in her small graphic arts firm. Then she drives out one of the firm’s other employees and strains the relationship between Isobel and Irwin by criticizing his work and mistreating their customers. It is largely because of Katherine that Tom and Marion decide to invest in Isobel’s company, even though Isobel does not want to expand it. Then, at a crucial moment in the company’s growth, she gets drunk and tries to kill an important client, dooming the company to financial failure.

Throughout the play, Isobel tries to help Katherine and to give her every opportunity to redeem herself. However, Katherine continues to abuse Isobel and to take advantage of her. At one point, Irwin even warns Isobel that Katherine is actually evil and that she is ‘‘dreaming of ways to destroy you.’’ In the end, Irwin is right. When Isobel has nothing left and is living with Katherine in her apartment, taking care of her and hiding from Irwin, it is Katherine who unlocks the door and lets Irwin in. As a result of this betrayal, Isobel, Katherine’s savior, is murdered.

Rhonda Milne Rhonda is the only minor character in The Secret Rapture. Somewhere in her early twenties, Rhonda is quite attractive, highly intelligent, bold, and outspoken. She is Marion’s assistant in the Department of the Environment and seems to share Marion’s conservative political views. She contributes two important things to the play.

First, Rhonda is a reflection of how Marion and her Conservative Party are affecting the lives of the next generation of Britain’s leaders. Rhonda has recognized the power of the Conservatives and has attached herself to that power. She is ambitious, eager to profit, and doesn’t seem to mind taking advantage of other people. She helps arrange Marion’s countryside meeting with the Green Party representatives and relishes the way Marion insults them and sends them back to the city.

Second, Rhonda is a temptation for Irwin and a clear sign to Isobel that their relationship is over. While Isobel is supposedly away on a business trip, Rhonda arranges to meet Irwin alone in their new offices one evening. She is supposedly there to see the new space and to use their shower, since her water has been unexpectedly turned off. However, her visit turns into a seduction as she and Irwin share a bottle of champagne and she recalls some of her sexual exploits. Sounding a little like Katherine, Rhonda admits that Marion keeps her around because she ‘‘likes the idea that I cause chaos.’’

Unlike the major characters in the play, Rhonda does not seem changed by Isobel’s death. On the day of Isobel’s funeral, when everyone is gathered at Robert’s house in appropriate mourning clothes, Rhonda appears wearing a short black skirt. She is still fielding phone calls from the Ministry for Marion, though Marion now refuses to accept them. She is puzzled by the town’s reaction to Isobel’s death. When she learns that they all want to walk through the village as a group, she comments, ‘‘It’s like everyone valued her.’’

Irwin Posner When he first appears in the play, Irwin seems to be Isobel’s mild-mannered and devoted sometime boyfriend. He works as the principal illustrator at Isobel’s small graphic arts firm. Initially, he recognizes the problems Katherine is causing for Isobel and their company, but he continues to support Isobel and her desire to help her father’s widow. When Katherine begins to criticize his work and mistreat their clients, though, Irwin urges Isobel to cut her loose. He even tries to tell Katherine to leave, but Isobel allows her to stay.

The strain Katherine places on their relationship apparently begins to affect Irwin, and he begins to act in unpredictable ways. Behind Isobel’s back, he meets with Tom and Marion about their proposal to invest in her business. He tells them that he and Isobel are planning to get married, and for his help in convincing her to agree to their proposal, he accepts their offer to double his salary. Isobel sees his actions as a betrayal and decides she no longer loves him.

Frustrated at Isobel’s lack of attention and affection, Irwin meets Rhonda in their offices one evening when Isobel is supposed to be out of town. Though their encounter may have begun innocently enough, by the time Isobel surprises them by returning early, they have been drinking champagne together and are on the verge of a passionate embrace. Irwin makes one last plea to Isobel to show him some affection and to get rid of Katherine before she destroys everything, but Isobel is determined and tells him that it is over between them.

When the time finally comes for Tom and Marion to close down Isobel’s company, Irwin admits that Isobel, not his career or anyone else, is his ‘‘whole life.’’ He is still in love with her, though she will not even appear in the same room with him. Irwin’s obsession finally turns to violence. He stalks Isobel to Katherine’s apartment, where he confronts her with a gun and demands one last time that she take him back and restore things to the way they were before. When she refuses and tries to go for help, he murders her. Her life has ended and so, apparently, has Irwin’s torture. ‘‘It’s over,’’ he mutters. ‘‘Thank God.’’




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