Characters Discussed

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Arthur, a neat and handsome twenty-five-year-old, dressed until the last act in a freshly pressed suit, white shirt, and tie. He is a counterrevolutionary idealist who rebels against what he considers his family’s (and society’s) liberalism, ethical relativism, slack permissiveness, disorder, and all-around anarchic individualism. Disgusted by what he regards as his family’s immoral refusal to follow firm rules of conduct, he seeks to map out an orderly and respectable way of life, regulated by old-fashioned ceremonies and submission to absolute principles. He persuades his cousin Ala to marry him rather than simply sleep with him and forces his family, by the beginning of act 3, into ill-fitting, outdated, moth-eaten formal clothes for the wedding. He comes to realize that the old order cannot be reestablished at the point of his pistol. When Ala nonchalantly informs him that she had sex with the servant, Eddie, the morning before the marriage vows are to be exchanged, he breaks into tears and becomes easy prey for Eddie, who kills him.


Eddie, the family’s muscular, sensual, anti-intellectual servant. He is crude, unshaven, and slovenly, and he sports a small, square mustache. His card playing with Eugene and Eugenia annoys Arthur, but it is his affair with Eleanor that deeply outrages Arthur, who urgently attempts to have his father shoot his mother’s lover. When a disillusioned, drunken Arthur raves about the glory of omnipotent power in the final act, Eddie takes him at his word and tries to murder Arthur’s uncle Eugene. Ala’s declaration of her infidelity causes Arthur to seek Eddie’s death. It is the latter, however, who is armed and uses his revolver to stun Arthur, before murdering him with a savage hand blow. Eddie then assumes despotic dominion over the family. The play ends with Eddie dancing all the steps of the tango “La Cumparsita” with old Eugene.


Stomil, Arthur’s father, described as “a large, corpulent man with gray hair like a lion’s mane.” He prefers to wear pajamas that are unbuttoned, thereby angering his son. Stomil is an aesthetic nonconformist who devotes himself to impractical, avant-garde artistic experiments. When Arthur adjures his father to murder Eddie for having made him a cuckold, Stomil repeatedly refuses to make a tragedy out of what he regards as a farce and ends up playing cards with Eddie instead. In act 3, the disillusioned son begs Stomil’s forgiveness: “[T]here’s no turning back to the old forms. They can’t create a reality for us. I was wrong.” After Arthur’s death, Stomil does forgive him in a generous eulogy.


Eleanor, the middle-aged mother of Arthur and wife of Stomil. She retains a good figure and is casually open about her affair with Eddie. He delights her by lacking complexes, scruples, or any other sort of sophistication, and by what she considers his naturalness and authenticity.


Ala, Arthur’s eighteen-year-old cousin. She is pretty, long-haired, flirtatious, and bored by Arthur’s long-winded speeches about convention and formal principles. When the dying Arthur tells her that he loved her, she asks him why he had not revealed his heart to her earlier, instead of using her as an audience for his pronouncements.


Eugene, a polite, old former officer, Arthur’s great-uncle, who is opportunistic enough to accommodate himself to whatever order, or disorder, governs the family. He is impressed by Arthur’s purposefulness and becomes his willing lieutenant when Arthur attempts his return to nineteenth century formalism. When Eddie takes power in the play’s final minutes, he orders Eugene to take off his (Eddie’s) shoes. Eugene obeys this new regime slavishly.


Eugenia, Arthur’s grandmother, lively, irreverent, playful, and indifferent to the philosophic debates that volley in the family. In the opening scene, Arthur insists that she lie on her late husband’s catafalque. In the last act, she willingly climbs up on it and dies, thereby upsetting no one but Stomil.

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