‘Honest to God, it breaks my heart to see what happened to all the children. How we worked and planned for you, and you end up no better than us.’ (Act Two)
Kate is another complicated character. It seems cut and dry: Kate is a woman who loves her family. So much so that when her son Larry goes missing during the war, she continues to believe he lives with a steely determination.
Just as Joe is willing to do no matter what to make money for the family, Kate is willing to do no matter what to keep Larry alive. And for Kate if it means going along with Joe’s denial of his crime, that’s what she is willing to do. In this regard, Joe and Kate are quite similar. They both feel intense individual responsibilities to their family and ignore the world at large to achieve that individual responsibility. Kate’s maternal love comes at the determent of acknowledging the reality of the situation.
And just as Joe seems like the head of the family on the surface, it’s Kate who rules everything. She is in such control that everyone around her maintains the fallacy of Larry’s survival. At the beginning of the play Joe is unwilling to publicly back Chris’ decision to reveal his relationship with Ann. Kate constantly needles Joe that he needs to support her because she supports him. Throughout the play she tries to bully Ann into admitting that she’s still in love with Larry and waiting for him. And when George arrives with talk of confronting Joe, she uses her ‘maternal love’ to weaken George:
‘We all love you. Joe was just talking about the day you were born and the water got shut off. People were carrying basins from a block away – a stranger would have thought the whole neighbourhood was on fire! Why didn’t you give him some juice?’ (Act Two)
Suddenly Kate is no longer a cut and dry character.
Activities and Exercises
- Kate is first described in the stage directions as ‘a woman of uncontrolled inspirations, and an overwhelming capacity for love.’ Give this description to students before reading the play. Have the students stand and create a physical presence for him. How do these descriptive words become three-dimensional?
- Alternatively, draw a picture or choose pictures of someone who fits this description. Then once students have read the play, have them draw a picture of Kate. Compare and contrast the two pictures.
- Stage the dream that Kate has about Larry. Why does Kate share this dream?
- What was Kate like before the war? Has she completely changed? Why or why not? Improv a scene with Kate and her family that shows her pre-war personality.
- Create an improv where Kate interacts with her two sons before the war. What was her relationship like with Larry? Was it typical? How did she interact with Chris?
- Stage the moment before the play begins with the storm and Kate entering the yard in the middle of the night.
Questions To Answer
- Does Kate live up to his description in his initial stage directions?
- Is Kate insane, or completely sane?
- Why does Kate consider herself and Joe stupid?
- Does Kate love Joe? Why or why not?
- What does money mean to Kate?
- How does her overwhelming capacity for love hurt those closest to her?
- In Act Three Kate says she has no strength. Is this the truth or a tactic? Are there any other places in the play where she demonstrates a lack of strength?
- How does Kate view the world?