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Character Analysis
by Margaret Loftus Ranald

MILLER, Nat. Husband of Essie Miller; father of Arthur Miller, Mildred Miller, Richard Miller, and Tommy Miller, plus two more sons who do not appear; also brother of Lily Miller.  He "is in his late fifties, a tall, dark, spare man, a little stoop-shouldered," almost bald, "dressed with an awkward attempt at respectability." He is the owner of the Evening Globe a newspaper in a "big small-town in Connecticut." He is decent, understanding, tolerant of his children's foibles, better read than his wife, whom he loves; he can relate to Richard's voyages of literary discovery and laugh at the spicy quotations his son sends to Muriel McComber. He even sends David McComber away and refuses his advertising because the man attacks Richard. However, he is a trifle concerned about Richard's relationship with Muriel, in case he does something "wrong." He delivers the stock sex-education speech of embarrassed parent to his son and is happy to hear that Richard has not begun such experimentation. He believes in education and sends his sons to Yale. He is also a romantic and can relate very well to the lovesick Richard and the moonlight. He is also tolerant of the behavior of Sid Davis, his brother-in-law, and despite Sid's past history with the bottle, Nat plans to take him on as a reporter, if he stops "that nonsense." Nat Miller is portrayed with some sentimentality as a decent, hard-working husband and father, capable of getting mildly drunk, telling interminable personal tales, and of insisting on his foibles, such as his allergy to bluefish.

MILLER, Essie. Wife of Nat Miller and mother of Arthur Miller, Mildred Miller, Richard Miller, and Tommy Miller, plus two other sons who do not appear; sister of Sid Davis and sister-in-law of Lily Miller. Essie is around fifty, stout, with graying light-brown hair. She "must have been decidedly pretty as a girl in a round-faced, cute, small-featured, wide-eyed fashion." Her eyes are large, soft, and brown, her manner bustling and maternal. Throughout the play she is eminently practical and not very well educated. She is appalled at the advanced and wicked reading that her son Richard is doing, and her distinctive characteristics are literality and maternal fussiness. She seems to live entirely for her family and is almost always sympathetic and understanding, though not above a little deception, as in her feeding her husband bluefish under another name because she knows that his allergy is nonexistent. She is also romantic and still in love with her husband after many years of marriage. O'Neill treats her with a tolerant humor, frequently making fun of her lack of information.

MILLER, Arthur. Son of Essie Miller and Nat Miller; brother of Mildred Miller, Richard Miller, and Tommy Miller. Art is a nineteen-year-old Yale football player on vacation, "with a square, stolid face, small blue eyes and thick sandy hair." He is a very collegiate type and is in love with Elsie Rand, who never appears in the play. He is a stock figure of the college athlete and a young man given to singing very sentimental songs.

MILLER, Richard. Son of Essie Miller and Nat Miller; brother of Arthur Miller, Mildred Miller, and Tommy Miller; in love with Muriel McComber. He is widely believed to illustrate elements of Eugene O'Neill himself. He is "a perfect blend of father and mother," light-brown hair, gray eyes, of medium height. He is not really a handsome seventeen-year-old, but he projects an "extreme sensitiveness . . . a restless, apprehensive, defiant, shy, dreamy, self-conscious intelligence." He is at that awkward stage when he is discovering and revelling in literature of all kinds and consequently has a superior air toward the rest of his family, who do not seem to understand him. He spouts socialist cliches about the Fourth of July holiday and capitalism, and is given to quoting from the books he keeps hidden from the rest of his family. His library and his dramatic posturings include Wilde, Shaw, Ibsen, Swinburne, Kipling, Carlyle, and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam. He is surprised when his father shows knowledge of Carlyle and when both Lily Miller and Sid Davis know the Rubáiyát.

He is the central figure of the play, and the main action evolves about some Swinburne quotations he has sent to his girl friend, Muriel. Her father considered them obscene and insisted that Muriel reject him and that Richard be punished. In an attempt to gain a kind of dramatic vengeance, Richard goes with Wint Selby, a Yale friend of his brother, to the Pleasant Beach Inn with two "swift babies from New Haven." What ensues between him and Belle is the stock situation of the young man's first visit to a prostitute (whom he tries to reform) and first acquaintance with strong drink. The innocent Richard gets very drunk and quotes poetry to the surprised "tart," Belle, and the salesman she has picked up. Richard is finally thrown out of the inn. At home he becomes very sick, and his Ibsen-like posturing collapses as a result.

Receiving a letter from Muriel suggesting a meeting, he tries not to appear too eager, but at the same time he wants to impress her. He tells her rather too much of the story of the preceding night and they quarrel; however, they make up and the young man returns home, where his father gives him the stock embarrassed-father's sex-education speech. Richard is appalled that anyone would suspect him of such behavior when he loves Muriel and intends to marry her. He is also surprised to realize that his parents were once young, too. As the play ends, he is sitting dreamily in the moonlight.

MILLER, Mildred. Daughter of Essie Miller and Nat Miller; sister of Arthur Miller, Richard Miller, and Tommy Miller. She is fifteen years old, so like her father that she is not at all pretty. She has large gray eyes, "vivacity and a fetching smile." Throughout the play she is rather giggly and juvenile, like Tommy, given to laughter in the wrong places and to teasing her lovesick brother, Richard. She does perform one useful function for Richard in bringing him a letter from Muriel McComber, his girlfriend.

MILLER, Tommy. Son of Essie Miller and Nat Miller; brother of Arthur Miller, Mildred Miller, and Richard Miller. Tommy is "a chubby, sun-burnt boy of eleven with dark eyes, blond hair... a shiny, good-natured face." He is the stock juvenile brat with charm who lets off his fire-crackers at the wrong time, reveals his mother's deception about the bluefish she feeds his father under another name, and who refuses to drink his milk or go to bed.

DAVIS, Sid. Brother of Essie Miller and permanent wooer of Lily Miller, Nat Miller's sister. He is forty-five, short, with the look of a permanent adolescent. He dresses in clothes that were once natty and loud but are now shabby and shapeless. His problem is the bottle, and he becomes intoxicated at the July 4 picnic, once again. He is such an amusing drunk that everyone encourages him, much to Lily Miller's anger. Nonetheless, he is a sympathetic, understanding person where members of the family are concerned. He and Nat Miller get along well, and Nat tries to help when Sid loses his job as a reporter. Lily Miller loves Sid, and he loves her (after his fashion), making a ritual proposal of marriage almost every day. She had once been engaged to him but broke it off as the result of his drunken escapade with prostitutes. He has some self-knowledge but seems powerless to change his ways. He is the stock figure of the weak family member with some brains, and even talent as a reporter, but unable to translate potential into achievement. He is mildly romantic and, like Lily, he quotes from the Rubáiyát but particularly the parts about liquor.

MILLER, Lily. Sister of Nat Miller, permanently and hopelessly attracted to Sid Davis, brother of Essie Miller. Lily "is forty-two, tall, dark and thin" with glasses. She looks like the epitome of the dried-up, old-maid schoolteacher, but when she speaks her voice is "soft and full of sweetness." She broke off her engagement with Sid sixteen years earlier because of a drunken escapade involving prostitutes, though Sid swears his innocence. She realizes that he is not good marriage material, and therefore she refuses his almost ritual proposals. However, she still has real affection for him and is enraged when the family seems to encourage him in his adolescent comic behavior. On one occasion, she does feel sorry for herself as an old maid sponging off her relatives, but she seems to have made a good accommodation to her situation by loving the Miller children and enjoying her work. She is quite well-read and is romantic enough to quote from the Rubáiyát.

McCOMBER, David. Father of Muriel McComber, the girlfriend of Richard Miller. McComber is "a thin, dried-up little man" in his late fifties, with a "long solemn horse face . . . and a tiny slit of a mouth." He is the typical heavy father and descends censoriously on Nat Miller on July 4 to complain about the obscene poems Richard is writing to Muriel, not realizing that they are quotations from Swinburne. Nat Miller angrily sends him away, refusing to run his advertisement in the Miller newspaper. McComber insists that Muriel write a letter of renunciation, which he delivers to Nat for Richard's perusal, and he punishes his daughter, insisting that Miller also punish his son. Finally he thinks better of his actions and apologizes to Nat.

McCOMBER, Muriel. Daughter of David McComber. She is between fifteen and sixteen, pretty in a plump way with a "graceful little figure, fluffy, light-brown hair, big naive wondering dark eyes, a round dimpled face, a melting drawly voice." She is in love with Richard Miller and is overwhelmed with the poetry (copied from Swinburne and others) that he sends her. When she is forbidden by her father to see Richard, she manages to arrange a meeting, in which the two discuss their future. She wants him to go to Yale, even though Richard talks of getting married immediately. She is the younger equivalent of Essie Miller, Richard's mother—loving, practical, not particularly bright, and romantic.

SELBY, Wint. Friend of Arthur Miller. Selby is a Yale college-sport type on vacation. He wants his friend, Arthur, to visit the Pleasant Beach Inn with him and two "tarts" from New Haven, but finding that Arthur is unavailable, he asks Richard Miller to come instead. Selby is strictly a piece of stage machinery.

BELLE. The peroxide-blonde "tart." She is one of the "swift babies from New Haven" whom Wint Selby has met. He is responsible for bringing Richard Miller to the Pleasant Beach Inn for an evening of drinking and sex. Belle is tawdrily dressed, but she seems to be "a fairly recent recruit to the ranks, and is still a bit remorseful behind her make-up and defiantly careless manner." She tries to get Richard to take her to bed and conspires with the bartender to mix him a singularly powerful sloe-gin fizz. When nothing seems to wake Richard up, she turns to a salesman who seems a better customer. She is responsible for getting Richard and later herself thrown out of the bar and then writes a letter to Nat Miller, Richard's father, informing him of the night's events. She does not know what to make of the innocent Richard, particularly when he offers to pay her room rent without going to bed with her.

NORAH. The stock clumsy Irish "greenhorn" maid, straight off the boat. She is incapable of doing anything properly, from screwing in a light bulb to serving meals. She finds the intoxicated Sid Davis completely hilarious in Act II.

 

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