Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

Penelope (Penny) Vanderhof Sycamore

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Penelope (Penny) Vanderhof Sycamore, a mother in her mid-fifties, the matriarch of a comic household, carefree and easygoing. Penny clearly loves her family and life itself. After a typewriter is mistakenly delivered to her, she drops her old hobby of painting and begins to write plays. She does both very badly, but with style and good humor.

Paul Sycamore

Paul Sycamore, Penny’s husband and father of the Sycamore brood. Paul has given up ordinary work to construct fireworks in his basement. He often tries them out in the center of the living room. He intends to market them, but his plans never quite work out. Paul is less involved than his wife in the lives of the children because he spends so much time in the basement.

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, the patriarch and founder of the family’s unconventional lifestyle. The Sycamore family clearly revolves around Grandpa, and his eccentric clear-sightedness saves the day more than once. One day, Grandpa left work and never returned; he spends his life now in a more productive manner, throwing darts, attending commencements, and enjoying his family.

Essie Sycamore Carmichael

Essie Sycamore Carmichael, the elder daughter, who is married. Essie splits her time between making new kinds of candy (successfully) and practicing to become a ballerina (unsuccessfully).

Ed Carmichael

Ed Carmichael, Essie’s husband. Ed plays the xylophone, operates an amateur printing press in the living room, and occasionally peddles Essie’s candies.

Alice Sycamore

Alice Sycamore, the younger daughter, in her early twenties. Alice is the only normal person in the Sycamore family. She works in an office on Wall Street and has no unusual hobbies. She is devoted to her outlandish family, however, and generally approves of their lifestyles. Alice is in love with Tony Kirby but is afraid that their families will never get along.

Anthony (Tony) Kirby, Jr.

Anthony (Tony) Kirby, Jr., Alice’s fiancé, fresh out of college and the new vice president of his father’s business, where Alice works. Tony finds the Sycamores delightful, in contrast to his stodgy family, although, like Alice, he is basically a normal person.

Anthony Kirby, Sr.

Anthony Kirby, Sr., Tony’s father. Mr. Kirby is a stereotypical Wall Street mogul: tired, worried, stiff, and bothered by indigestion. He is at first appalled by the antics of the Sycamores but comes to appreciate their “seize the day” attitude.


Rheba, the black maid. Entertaining in her own right, Rheba provides fairly objective commentary on the doings of the Sycamores.


Donald, Rheba’s boyfriend. Donald is on relief and wanders around the Sycamore house in his bathrobe, but he, too, appears more normal than the white people around him.

Mr. De Pinna

Mr. De Pinna, an iceman who came to make a delivery eight years earlier, fell under the Sycamores’ spell, and has stayed ever since. Mr. De Pinna is Paul’s assistant in the basement fireworks factory and models for Penny’s paintings.


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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1485

Ed Carmichael
Essie's husband Ed, as the stage directions inform, is a "nonedescript young man" in his thirties. He is a musician and composer who likes to play the xylophone as well as ply his trade as an amateur printer. As a hobby, he uses his hand-press to print sayings which he comes across in the writings of the revolutionary Russian Communist Leon Trotsky such as "God Is the State; the State is God." Proud of his work, he encloses these printed bills in the boxes with Essie's candy. Although Ed prints his slogans just for the fun of it, their political messages attract the attention of the F.B.I., who believe Ed is an insurrectionist...

(The entire section contains 1985 words.)

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