Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569
Father, a barrister in London, an antisocial man who takes refuge in his beloved garden every time a visitor threatens to disturb him. He seems sincerely to pity his son for having to go visit someone. Father collects the earwigs caught in his garden traps every evening and drowns them. His garden is his true passion, and the law is merely a way to earn a living—though he is very good at what he does. He is blinded from an accident while pruning an apple tree, but he refuses to acknowledge that he is blind. His visual blindness epitomizes his emotional blindness: He refuses to allow any emotional closeness between himself and his son or himself and his wife. He is a confusing yet fascinating character. It is not certain whether he has had several mistresses and smoked opium. He gets along with his grandchildren better than with his son.
Mother, a housewife. She caters to Father after he is blinded, taking care of him completely, even cutting up his food, but she never acknowledges his blindness overtly. She panders to her husband’s every whim, including making marmalade, even though she hates doing it. She does not seem to be very sentimental or emotional; when her young son starts to cry, she apparently cannot believe or accept it. She is living in a rut, but one in which she means to stay. When she speaks about what she will do when her husband dies, she says she will stay in her home, because “someone has to see to the marmalade.” Her main concern seems to be that no improper subject be discussed in general conversation.
Boy and Son, a character who has two physical dimensions. He is called “Boy” when he is very young and “Son” when he is an adult. As a boy, he is bewildered and hurt by his parents’ emotional aloofness. When he cries, his father merely tells him to say “rats,” on the premise that no one can cry when they are saying the word “rats.” When the boy is sent away to school, he finds that the school world is even stranger than home—complete with shell-shocked teachers who hallucinate that enemy attacks are taking place in the classroom and throw books at their students. The main facet of the young man’s character is that as he evolves from a boy into an adult, he loses his softer side. At the play’s end, his wife, Elizabeth, accuses him of exhibiting the same inability to deal with seriousness that his father shows.
Miss Cox and
Miss Baker, a lesbian couple who run a bookstore. The son makes friends with them while he is home during World War II. During a conversation, the women automatically assume that the son will join the Fire Service and become a writer, because that is what all their friends do.
Elizabeth, a scriptwriter who becomes the son’s wife. Elizabeth is a beautiful brunet who is married when the son first meets her. She writes film scripts as part of the war effort. Elizabeth is an honest, open person; she disapproves of the mother, son, and father’s charade about not mentioning his blindness. She is unhappy about the way her husband seems to have inherited his father’s lack of being able to cope with serious issues.