Characters of the Gentleman in O’ Neill’s play Thirst


The Gentleman is one of the three nameless characters in O' Neill play Thirst. In the floating life - raft he is the middle aged while man, a fellow comrade in the misfortune. The first portrait of the Gentleman is an idealized one, a type of chivalry, gentle in speech and manner, dignified and simple in his speech and decorum. There is perhaps a very light touch of irony in his gradual transformation into an abject misery owing to thirst, hunger and scorching sunlight. However his maiden - like shy manner and gaiety or liveliness individualize him in this play.

The first class passenger with gallant dress this Gentleman is now a mere caricature of such garments. The shirt is stained and rumpled and his collar a formless pulp about his neck and black lie a withered ribbon are - the details of his appearance. His is the eyes with vacant look stretching at the furthest horizon at the sea. The hair is disheveled, revealing a bold spot burnt crimson by the sun. With swollen lips, burnt face he is the unfortunate mite. In contrast to his earlier state, the Gentleman seems to have joined the company for disaster and final overthrow.

The Gentleman is also waiting for death alike the Negro and the Dancer. In the vast myriad sea, with hostile sun, sharks and thirst life seems life seems an illusory impossible dream. The subject of grave thirst, poignant in it, is enhanced by the motif of watching and waiting, a strenuous poise recording a variety of feelings. We observe frustration, fear, anxiety, misunderstanding, insensitivity, love, sympathy in the Gentleman. The Gentleman is polite to the Dancer. Whenever the first for water, fear for shark looms large the Gentleman consoles the lady. He even tells the lies that sharks never eat people. In the dead monotonous song of the Negro, the Dancer is getting afraid of him, but the Gentleman analyses the Negro as an unfortunate sojourner of calamity. He says: “That is foolish. It is the sun that beats down so fiercely which makes you have such thoughts. I, also, have been afraid of him at times, but I know now that I had been gazing at the sea too long and listening to the great silence. Such things distort your brain."

  However, a multitude of related emotions battle for primacy in the Gentleman's review of his present situation with lifelessness, hopelessness and a vivid waiting for death. In a sob in voice quite ironically he reflects his hard labour : " oh God God ! After twenty years of incessant grind, day after wearily day, I started on my first vacation. I was going home. And here I sit dying by slow degrees, desolate and forsaken. Is this the meaning of all my year of my years of labor? “Later he reads the menu card and laughs at the irony of it.

As the thirst becomes acute, the Gentleman in order to quench the raging thirst is ready for soul - selling. Further they mistrust the Negro sailor as if he must have water hidden because he still keeps fit and strong. The Gentleman has even the idea of killing Negro: " I would willing kill him - - - but I can not even stand ". Later he persuades the Dancer to part with the diamond Necklace and allure the Negro. While the Dance frenziedly dances the hypnotized rhythms, the Gentleman applauds her by clapping and shouts: “Dance! Dance Salome! “Ultimately the Dancer dies on floor of the raft and the Gentleman senses a relief from such suffering: “yes, she is dead, poor girl. Her heart no longer beats “The Negro however thinks of eating the Dancer which is finally nullified by the Gentleman. The Gentleman pushes the dead body into the sea and in the scuffle with the Negro both plunges into the sea.

A further subject is hinted at but not mentioned explicitly in the character of the Gentleman. Thirst is a dramatization of the human in extreme situation where morals are useless. The fitted strategy of being survival is to follow the rules of savage. The cannibalistic Negro is the reality. In that sense the Gentleman is quite unrealistic. But the psychological realism of thirst goes a long way in our appreciation of O Neill's integrity as a writer. The Gentleman the Negro and Dancer are integrated within a single man. The gentleman is the abstraction of social behaviour , the Negro is the basic instinct , the Dancer is the love of finery . When finery dies the instincts wage a war with social morals. But if social morals die how can man survive after all man is a rational animal?  


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