Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1330
Adelaide Adelaide is Claire’s sister who has been raising Elizabeth, Claire’s daughter from her first marriage. She also has five children of her own. She is a proper Victorian woman who constantly chastises Claire for not taking on her responsibilities as dutiful wife and mother. She calls Claire ‘‘unnatural’’ and is appalled that she does not exhibit a traditional mother’s love for her daughter. Adelaide is per fectly happy with the role society has dictated for her. As she notes in the second act, ‘‘I go about in the world—free, busy, happy. Among people. I have no time to think of myself.’’
Anthony Anthony is a rugged, older man who assists Claire with her work in the greenhouse. He is loyal to Claire and obeys any orders she gives. Anthony is devoted to his work with the plants and will even give Mr. Archer instructions when it comes to his actions in the greenhouse. Anthony stays out of the family’s affairs unless they interfere with his botanical work. He believes in Claire’s work, and, like her, is very captivated by the Breath of Life plant.
Claire Archer Claire is the protagonist around whom the play revolves. She is a woman who feels trapped in circumstances beyond her control. She is trying to break free from this ‘‘prison’’ through her creation of new and unusual forms of plants. Claire’s sense of self runs parallel with her botanical experiments. She is seeking ‘‘otherness’’ in her plants and in herself. She longs to escape from the forms that constrain her and conveys this desire symbolically through creating life that takes on a new, unrestrained form. She feels this is her only salvation. ‘‘We need not be held in forms molded for us. There is outness—and otherness.’’ Claire believes that if she can recreate her plants, she can recreate herself. She is extremely unhappy in her current existence and is frustrated in her inability to truly communicate with those around her. Mere words are inadequate to try and convey her emotions and so, throughout the play, she resorts to poetry to try and get her meaning across. She is unsuccessful, however, and remains trapped in her own interior prison. Claire is not able to truly break from the patterns that imprison her, and the frustration and disillusionment that come from this realization push her ever closer to madness. Claire foreshadows her own fate very early in the play when she speaks the line, ‘‘Things that take a sporting chance—go mad.’’ She does not necessarily believe that madness is a terrible thing. For Claire, it is her only chance of breaking free. If Claire cannot recreate the outside world in which she lives, she must turn to the only word she has total control over, her interior one. For Claire, madness is the ultimate welcome escape. She sums up this paradox with the line, ‘‘Madness that is the only chance for sanity.’’
Harry Archer Harry is Claire’s husband. He is a pilot. He is also a congenial man who subscribes to the traditional Victorian values. He believes in behaving properly and that one should exhibit correct manners and decorum at all times. Propriety is very important to Harry, and he comments throughout the play on what behavior he believes a proper woman should exhibit. Throughout the play, Harry tries to restrain Claire’s ‘‘strange’’ behavior and to pull her back into the role of a traditional Victorian wife. He constantly urges Claire to be happy and to be ‘‘herself,’’ not understanding that these two things might be mutually exclusive. Harry believes a normal woman should be...
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perfectly content with being a good homemaker, wife, and mother. He is patronizing to Claire and does not understand what her work with the plants means to her. He dismisses her projects with comments such as, ‘‘Well, I don’t want to see it get you—it’s not important enough for that.’’ Harry does not understand Claire’s behavior at all and believes that she is suffering from hysteria.
Richard Demming Richard Demming is a houseguest and friend of the Archer’s. He is known to his friends as Dick. Dick is an artist who produces abstract drawings. Many of the other characters in the play do not understand his artwork. Harry calls his drawings, ‘‘lines that don’t make anything.’’ Through his artwork, Dick too is breaking patterns by creating drawings with forms that people do not recognize. He is having an affair with Claire of which Harry is unaware at the start of the play. As an artist, Dick concentrates primarily on the visual aspects of things. For example, when Claire urges him to destroy the Edge Vine in act I, he resists because it is ‘‘interesting in form.’’ Dick loves Claire’s physicality, her exterior self, but he does not understand what is going on inside her. Dick dismisses Claire’s ramblings as ‘‘merely the excess of a particularly rich temperament.’’
Tom Edgeworthy Tom is an old friend of Claire’s who is her closest confidant. Tom is into meditation and mystical practices and is somewhat of a poet and philosopher. Of all the men in Claire’s life, he is the most sensitive to her feelings. Tom tries to understand her torment, but he too ultimately fails. Tom is in love with Claire and has decided he must go away because he cannot have her love on his own terms. At the end of the play when he tries to pull Claire away with him, it is clear that he does not truly understand her either, and Claire sees this as the last straw. His inability to ‘‘meet Claire in her world’’ ultimately leads to the climax of the play. Of all of the characters, Tom’s speech patterns most closely resemble Claire’s with their sometimes stilted and disjointed meter. In this way, Glaspell symbolically indicates the chance for a connection between the two characters.
Elizabeth Elizabeth is Claire’s daughter from her first marriage. She has been raised by her Aunt Adelaide and has not seen her mother for the past year. She is poised, graceful, and self-assured. Elizabeth tries very hard to ingratiate herself to her mother, but she is not able to get through to Claire at all. Claire rejects her because Elizabeth represents all of the things that keep women ‘‘locked in’’ to their traditional roles. Unlike Harry, Elizabeth recognizes that things are rapidly changing in society, although she is not a willing participant in the change. In the first act, she notes that, ‘‘I’m not going to teach or preach or be a stuffy person. But now that—values have shifted and such sensitive new things have been liberated in the world—.’’ Elizabeth is a product of her upbringing and is well-suited to fulfill the role that society expects of her.
Dr. Charlie Emmons Dr. Emmons is a neurologist whom Harry enlists to try and help Claire. Dr. Emmons is a congenial man who tries his best to be non-threatening. He does not subscribe to the new Freudian theories of psychoanalysis that have been put forth. He holds on to the old belief that rest and isolation can help ‘‘cure’’ a hysterical patient, an idea that was common at the time the play takes place. Dr. Emmons has been brought to the house by Harry, who hopes he can find a way to help Claire revert back to her ‘‘normal’’ self.
Hattie Hattie is the Archer’s maid. She is loyal to the family and gets very concerned whenever she feels something is amiss. When Hattie notices Mr. Archer talking heatedly with Mr. Demming, she becomes very upset and tries to get Anthony to intervene. She serves an important function at the beginning of act 3 when she reports what occurred the previous night and what she has witnessed during the conversation between Mr. Archer and Mr. Demming.