Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521

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Matt Friedman

Matt Friedman, a forty-two-year-old Jewish accountant from St. Louis, Missouri. A tall, commanding figure with great warmth and honesty, Matt fell in love with Sally the year before, when he met her during a vacation in her small hometown of Lebanon, Missouri. After having written to her daily for a year and receiving no response, he has returned to her home to face her and ask her to marry him. Matt is not, by his own admission, the romantic type; he is a loner, a European immigrant whose loss of his family in prewar Europe has left him isolated and rootless. He has a strong propensity for mimicry and wit, and he uses these often as defense mechanisms to ward off pain, a talent he adopted in having to assuage the painful memories of his childhood. Undaunted by Sally’s rejection and demands that he return home, Matt knows that Sally cares for him and refuses to leave until he can reveal a secret about himself that will affect her marriage decision. With great difficulty, he recounts his life, in the guise of a hypothetical story, detailing the murder of his parents and sister in Europe and his arrival in America. He concludes by revealing the effect that his losses have made on his life: his secret “resolve . . . never to be responsible for bringing into such a world another living soul.” He believes that no woman would want a husband who refused to father children, but when Sally finally admits the secret to her life, the secret behind her loneliness and pain, these two displaced and isolated people finally make contact and find love and acceptance.

Sally Talley

Sally Talley, a thirty-one-year-old nurse. Born to a wealthy capitalist family, Sally is the outcast, rejected not only because of her socialist beliefs but also because her infertility, brought on by an illness a decade ago, prevented her marriage into another wealthy Lebanon family, a marriage that would have increased her family’s fortune during the lean years of the Depression. Sally hates her home life and is eager to move, but because she believes that her only worth as a woman is her ability to procreate, she has decided never to marry and is content to live her life unmarried. For this reason, coupled with her low self-esteem, which has been nurtured by her family’s ostracism of her, she has sentenced herself to loneliness and, despite her attraction to Matt, discourages his romantic pursuit of her. Acutely sensitive to her infertility, which she deems antonymous to womanhood, Sally flies into a rage when Matt admits his unwillingness to father children, believing his confession to be a mere fabrication meant to manipulate her into marrying him. Outraged at his seemingly patronizing gesture, she rejects him outright and forcefully for the first time. As Matt pursues the reason for her irrational anger, insisting that his secret resolution is true, Sally eventually believes him and finally, in a most stirring and pathetic moment, lets down her guard and admits her secret: her infertility and the isolation and loneliness it has brought her.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

Matt Friedman
Matt is an accountant from St. Louis who met and fell in love with Sally a year before the play opens, when he came to Lebanon, Missouri, on vacation. He has been writing to her every day for a year, but her only reply has been to tell him to stop writing. Now Matt has come to Lebanon to propose to Sally in person. Jewish and forty-two years old, Matt seems all wrong for Sally, who is part of a wealthy Methodist family in a conservative, small Midwest town. Still, he is sure that he and Sally share true love, and that together they will have a chance at the happiness that has eluded them both. As the two talk in the old Talley boathouse, Sally denies that she loves Matt, but he refuses to leave. Finally, haltingly, he tells her the story of his family’s persecution and murder in Europe, and of his decision never to father children, never to bring another soul into this world. He has never before dared to believe that any woman could love him enough to marry a man who will not father children, but he is sure enough of Sally to declare himself. His admission frees Sally to reveal her own secret, and the two discover a common ground. They agree to elope.

Sally Talley
Sally Talley is a lonely thirty-one-year-old woman who lives with her extended family in Lebanon, Missouri. The Talley family is wealthy and dedicated to conservative capitalism. Sally has let down the family by embracing socialist beliefs and by not marrying into another wealthy family and thereby increasing the family fortune. She works as a nurse’s aide in a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, and dreams of getting away from her family. Still, when she meets Matt and falls in love with him, she spends a year denying her feelings. When Matt comes back to Lebanon and meets with her in the old boathouse, she reveals her affection for him but refuses to consider his proposal. She shows herself to be intelligent and quick-witted, but surprisingly lacking in self-confidence. When Matt declares his unwillingness to father children, she reveals her own secret: an illness in her late teens has left her infertile. Sure that no man would ever want to marry her, she has grown content as a single woman, but she learns that Matt will not resent her inability to bear children. Knowing that her family will not accept Matt, she agrees to elope that night and goes up to the house to pack.

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