Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2678
See Eleanor Roosevelt
See Franklin Delano Roosevelt
See Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Louis McHenry Howe
Small, homely, and sporting a badly wrinkled suit and vest, Louis McHenry Howe, (also known as Howe or Louie), is not only a chain smoker and an asthmatic but also a devoted friend and admirer of FDR’s. He has carved out a place for himself in the Roosevelt family, privy to the most intimate details of FDR’s comings and goings. He first appears in the play as one of his friend’s chief caregivers, indicated in an exchange with Jimmy regarding his father’s condition. In another conversation with Eleanor, the depth of his involvement is also apparent when Eleanor asks Howe of his ‘‘plans’’ with respect to FDR’s paralysis.
Howe is also of great comfort to the family in his efforts to assuage their fears. When Jimmy tells Howe of his fears about his father’s condition, Howe admits his own worries before relating an anecdote testifying to the personal strength of his friend. He assures Jimmy, first by placating him, ‘‘he’s a big and strong man in many ways,’’ and then by telling FDR’s son, ‘‘he’s going to win this one.’’ He is equally sensitive to Eleanor’s feelings, snapping her out of an emotional outburst by telling her that no one is more deserving of a good cry than she is.
In his role as political supporter, Howe acts as FDR’s advisor and defender, in addition to offering his friend encouragement. The level of influence Howe wields, not only with FDR but also with FDR’s family as an advocate of FDR’s, is made obvious in conversation. Specifically, when Sara pushes for her son to abandon political life in exchange for a sedentary one in Hyde Park, Howe rails against the idea. At Sara’s response that FDR is more to her than just a political hopeful, Howe fires back, ‘‘But he is, above all, himself . . . and he happens to be the best damned progressive in the country.’’
His skill as a volunteer advisor and public relations strategist is exemplified by the precautions Howe takes to move FDR from Campobello to New York for further treatment. The hours spent coaching Eleanor for speaking engagements and the carefully planted items in the press reveal the dedication and devotion Howe has for his friend. He does not just support FDR, he believes in him, perhaps with a vision far greater even than does FDR himself. In a particularly poignant or moving moment, FDR questions his own political abilities in light of his handicaps. Howe will have none of it, telling FDR that he believes his future to be preordained by God.
See James Roosevelt
Mr. Lassiter is a middle-aged, well-dressed man with an authoritative presence who calls on FDR on behalf of the democratic constituency he represents. When he pays FDR a visit, he warns him of the inevitable backlash FDR can expect for endorsing a Catholic as the Democratic candidate for the presidency. He is cold, formal, and straightforward with FDR in his complaints of Governor Smith and becomes completely enraged when his challenges to FDR are met with sarcasm.
Miss Marguerite LeHand
Miss Marguerite LeHand, or Missy, as she is commonly referred to, is FDR’s perky personal secretary. She is capable and conscientious as well as caring when it comes to supporting her boss. With her take-charge attitude, Missy fires questions at Howe concerning FDR’s travel arrangements, demonstrating her ability to note and take care of the smallest details despite the excitement over her boss’s condition. She is also deeply concerned for her boss, sharing with Howe that FDR’s condition moves her to the point of tears.
See Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt
See Miss Marguerite LeHand
As the only daughter to the Roosevelts, Anna views herself as a mature adolescent forced to tolerate her male siblings. These struggles to reach adulthood do not go unnoticed by her family. Her first comment to Eleanor is that she honestly cannot understand how her mother can calmly raise three boys. In this and subsequent instances, Anna betrays resentment harbored towards her parents for treating her like a child. When her younger bother tells Anna they are supposed to wait outside, Anna says with great pause, ‘‘I know—like—children.’’ In another moment, she is compelled to share the hurt she feels over giving up her room.
Later, Anna reveals to her parents that she feels she has been kept apart from their business far too long. Anna asserts herself as an adult in an effort to bridge the gap she feels between herself and her parents. She expresses her sense of isolation from the inner workings of her family, at one point pleading with her parents to please let her in on whatever it is they are experiencing: ‘‘I felt everybody was keeping me out of rooms. I didn’t really understand what you’ve been going through.’’ Her success lies not only in her parents’ reaction but in the way she handles, for example, her grandmother, as Anna begins to challenge rather than to defend what her grandmother has to say.
The wife of FDR and mother to his four children, Eleanor Roosevelt, or ‘‘Babs,’’ as she is affectionately referred to by her husband, is described as a tall, stately, and willowy young woman of thirtysix. One of her greatest qualities is the great personal fortitude and strength she demonstrates at the sudden onset of her husband’s infantile paralysis.
Instead of indulging in her own personal grief and fear, Eleanor is too concerned about the needs of her family to show her own feelings. In one particular instance, she warns Howe to tread lightly around FDR’s mother, Sara, telling him to ‘‘be understanding,’’ rather than to engage her in argument, saying to him, ‘‘it’s been a desperately unhappy day for her.’’
Her strength and sense of emotional self-control often mask the true depth of her feelings. At only one juncture in the play is the audience permitted to see her emotional struggles: when Eleanor breaks down in front of her children while reading them a story, she quickly recovers, and in a demonstration of personal strength, unselfishness, and concern for her children, she responds to Howe’s offer of support, saying, ‘‘I must have terrified the children. I won’t ever do that again. Not ever.’’ In another instance, she apologizes, without excuse, to her daughter for not being available when Anna needs her.
Eleanor is also a staunch supporter of her husband’s political beliefs, as well as of his career, and takes both very seriously. As a result of FDR’s condition, she has agreed to several speaking engagements for her husband’s sake, willing to be (as described by Howe) ‘‘Franklin’s eyes, ears—and legs’’ in the political arena. She also supports FDR by offering her own perspective, insight, and advice, thereby guiding his political career in a positive direction.
Finally, she is FDR’s wife. Her influence on his political life is also a function of their relationship. Perceptive and compassionate, Eleanor seems to anticipate her husband’s needs in such a way that she is able to help him maintain a sense of dignity and independence. On the boat trip to New York, Eleanor responds to her husband’s visible fatigue and exhaustion, not with exaggerated worry or panic, but by opting instead to calmly retrieve his hat. In another, her wisdom proves to be a valuable commodity in the relationship. She cautions FDR against overextending himself in his attempts to walk by offering up a biblical passage—‘‘A patient man shall bear for a time and afterward joy shall spring up unto him.’’ This moment, as do similar moments between the couple, inspires FDR to be introspective and, at the same time, encouraged.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
A man of great strength, intelligence, wisdom, wit, and compassion, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (also known as FDR and Frank), devoted father, husband, and politician, bravely battles his infantile paralysis in order to realize success for himself. FDR appears in the first act primarily as a family man, often encouraging his children to speak French or playfully wrestling with his sons. He is a strong presence in the Roosevelt household, the foundation of which is clearly shaken by his sudden illness.
FDR is, however, a strong man, and it is his incredible mental and physical strength that keeps both him and his family on track. At the outset of his illness, Howe pointedly tells Jimmy to ‘‘stop being frightened,’’ that his father is a tough adversary for any illness, ‘‘a strong and big man in many ways.’’ At one point in the narrative, FDR insists on ascending the stairs using only his arms to propel him. At other times, FDR speaks of his physical condition in terms of the physical work he plans to do to rehabilitate his muscles, without giving voice to actual limitations.
Apart from displays of physical strength, FDR’s great emotional strength is made manifest in his most private moments. In public, he meets the most difficult emotional challenges with humor and graciousness, in one instance jokingly thanking those involved in his transport by stretcher: ‘‘Gentlemen— thank you for the sedan chair. I feel like the Caliph of Bagdad.’’ When he is alone on stage, only then is the audience aware of the depth of his own struggles to recuperate from the paralysis. His efforts are illuminated fully, for example, in reaction to the fight with his mother. Left alone to ponder the physical limitations she has used to define him, FDR decides to prove her wrong by attempting to rise up off the chair by himself, aided only by crutches. Although he slumps back down in great pain, humiliation, and defeat, he rubs his legs and attempts several more times to rise again, despite potential suffering and failure. This spirit will manifest itself in his first public speaking engagement, during which he attempts, for the first time, to stand at a podium, aided only by leg braces and crutches.
His behavior is the hallmark of one able to overcome adversity. At no time during the play does FDR voice a complaint or engage in self-pity. Instead, he demonstrates a great introspective power when dealing with his own paralysis. In a private moment with Eleanor, he shares his frustration at not being able to move about as others can, but FDR’s discussion is coming from a point of personal assessment. It is clear FDR is considering his frustrations and his reactions to such frustrations as part of a character-building exercise rather than in self-pity. Similarly, in the next moment, FDR shares with Eleanor that, because his greatest fear is being trapped by fire, he has been privately practicing crawling to overcome his fear of possible entrapment in a burning building.
His strength of character is rivaled only by his deep love of politics. FDR’s desire for a political life far outweighs any desire he might have for a sedentary, stress-free life on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park. During a discussion with his mother, FDR also demonstrates his sense of high principals, his devotion to what is just and true, characteristics favorable to one who is aspiring for public office. When Sara tells him his idea to sell a portion of his personal estate is childish, her son reacts strongly, claiming, ‘‘I will not hang onto stock bringing me an income over the tortured bodies of miners who lived as though they were in the middle ages.’’ He is, as both Eleanor and Howe believe, a natural.
A strong devotion to the Democratic party and a keen awareness of political issues also foster the now mythic figure in Schary’s characterization of FDR. Eleanor goes so far as to speak publicly for her husband in support of the Democratic party, agreeing to be the official ‘‘eyes and ears’’ he needs to keep up with political trends. When Governor Smith visits, FDR demonstrates his knowledge of politics by zeroing in on, and sharing with Smith, the issues he feels are relevant to the success of his speech for the nomination. But what perhaps distinguishes FDR for a life of political greatness is his ability to be a freethinker and a visionary. When Lassiter comes to him with his concerns about Smith’s Catholic background and the negative impact it will have on the Democratic nomination, FDR haughtily informs him that he sees no justification for removing Smith on the basis of his religious background. He remains firm in his choice in spite of the general consensus that, by appointing a devout Catholic, religion and politics will conflict with party objectives.
James Roosevelt, or Jimmy, is the voice for the children—he is the only one (besides Anna) to express his siblings’ as well as his own fears about their father’s illness. He is also extremely careful and protective around his mother. In a discussion with Howe about his father’s condition, Jimmy confides that he would feel better if he knew what was going on but that he does not want to bother his mother over it. Of his brothers, Jimmy is the only one present behind the scenes, helping his father to prepare for Smith’s nomination speech at Madison Square Garden.
Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt
She is strong-willed, controlling, and stoic in the face of adversity, and as family matriarch and mother to FDR, Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt’s opinions touch everyone within the FDR household. The nature of her character is evident as FDR shares a letter from Sara, or Mama, as she is also referred to. He relays the contents of the letter, sharing that Mama ‘‘doesn’t have a high opinion’’ of one thing or another, or ‘‘believes in’’ this or that, and the like. Her specific expectations are that the children learn French. More important, it is in this particular moment that the power of her influence over the household is made apparent. When Sara mentions that she ‘‘expects to find a French family on my return,’’ FDR tells his children, ‘‘you’d better be speaking perfect French.’’ Indeed, throughout the play the children are encouraged to speak French in preparation for their grandmother’s visit.
Regarding her son’s medical condition, Sara has equally strong feelings that run counter to the convictions of those closest to him, including those of FDR. She is not afraid to assert her influence in an effort to control her son’s situation; she often makes sarcastic and cutting assaults on both Howe and her son. For example, knowing the influence Howe wields in her son’s life, Sara confronts FDR’s friend, telling him that, although she is grateful for his help in the case of her son’s illness, she ‘‘is less grateful for [Howe’s] untimely and grandiose schemes,’’ namely his plans for FDR to enter the political arena.
Because of her tendency towards protectiveness, Sara wields an emotional power and influence that can send her son into a state of extreme anger. She values the blue blood running through her family tree and tells Franklin that his resentment of such connection is ill founded: ‘‘Advantages of birth should be worn like clothes, with grace and comfort,’’ says a haughty Sara. In the end, however, it is Sara who surrenders to the idea of FDR’s political future by offering her blessing on his impending speech. FDR, as does the audience, discovers that Sara, like her son, is in the end fair-minded enough to put aside differences for the sake of FDR’s happiness and success.
Governor Alfred E. Smith
Al Smith is in his prime—saucy, smart, and healthy—and seeking FDR’s help to win the Democratic presidential nomination as his speech writer. Smith accomplishes this objective after mentally priming FDR with his concerns.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support