Watch on the Rhine Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1941

First published: 1941

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Melodrama

Time of work: 1940

Locale: Near Washington, D.C.

Characters DiscussedFanny Farrelly

Fanny Watch on the RhineFarrelly, the head of a distinguished Washington family. She eagerly awaits the return of her daughter, Sara, who has spent many years abroad with her German husband, rearing a family and helping him in his anti-Fascist efforts. Fanny disapproved of the marriage but is now eager to make amends. She is out of touch with what has been happening in Europe, but she responds well to Kurt’s explanation of his activities on behalf of the men and women who have opposed Adolf Hitler. Fanny is so moved by Kurt’s humane efforts on behalf of his fellow human beings that she conspires with him in the murder of Teck de Brancovis, who plans to inform on Kurt to the German embassy.

David Farrelly

David Farrelly, Fanny’s good-looking son, who has struggled under the shadow of a famous father. David falls in love with Marthe de Brancovis and helps Kurt survive Teck’s scheme against him.

Marthe de Brancovis

Marthe de Brancovis, Teck’s attractive wife, an American who has tired of her husband’s gambling and his generally dissolute life. She is a guest in Fanny’s home and falls in love with her son David.

Teck de Brancovis

Teck de Brancovis, a Romanian nobleman who gambles away his funds and decides to turn in Kurt Muller to the German embassy, which is sure to pay Teck for his efforts. Teck is suave but contemptuous of Americans, including his hostess, Fanny.

Kurt Muller

Kurt Muller, Sara’s husband and the play’s hero, a vulnerable man. His hands have been broken in torture, and he dreads returning to Europe, even though he knows that he must leave to rescue his compatriots who are in jail or are facing imminent extermination by the Nazis. Kurt is eloquent yet modest about his role in history. He impresses Fanny with his sincerity and determination and is instrumental in arousing her awareness of the threat to civilization that Fascism poses.

Sara Muller

Sara Muller, Kurt’s dedicated wife, who has had to brook her mother’s displeasure over her marriage. She wins Fanny over, however, with her dedication to Kurt and her family. Sara, in fact, articulates many of the emotions and opinions that Kurt keeps to himself. In this sense, she is his interpreter, saying in her own words what it has meant to follow him and to dedicate herself to his cause.

Bodo Muller

Bodo Muller, Kurt and Sara’s precocious child. Like Sara, he often expresses in blunt fashion opinions about freedom and democracy that Kurt only implies in his manner and halting speech. Bodo injects some humor into the play with his youthful sense of importance.

Babette Muller

Babette Muller, the middle child in the Muller family. She is much like her mother, supporting the family’s political commitment and feeling a solidarity with her father.

Joshua Muller

Joshua Muller, Kurt’s son. As the oldest child in the family, he feels a special responsibility for carrying on his father’s mission.

BibliographyEstrin, Mark W. Critical Essays on Lillian Hellman. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Contains twenty-three essays discussing three main topics–Hellman’s plays, her memoirs, and “the Hellman persona.” Of special interest are Jacob H. Adler’s essay, in which he discusses blackmail in Watch on the Rhine and other Hellman plays, and Timothy J. Wills’s article, which examines Hellman’s political plays and her attitudes toward war.Gurko, Leo. The Angry Decade: American Literature and Thought from 1929 to Pearl Harbor. New York: Harper-Calophon Books, 1967. Gurko discusses the political influence of Watch on the Rhine. He considers Hellman the best dramatic poet of the period.Holman, Lorena Ross. The Dramatic Works of Lillian Hellman. Stockholm, Sweden: Uppsala, 1973. An accessible source for beginners, this book contains a chapter on Watch on the Rhine that analyzes characters and structure in detail. Also includes an extensive bibliography with journal and newspaper articles and reviews.Lederer, Katherine. Lillian Hellman. Boston: Twayne, 1979. A detailed overview of Hellman’s life, plays, and nonfiction. Includes a selected bibliography of both primary sources (plays, collections of plays, memoirs) and secondary sources. In the discussion of Watch on the Rhine, Lederer takes issue with those who see its importance primarily in the character of Kurt Muller, arguing instead that the play concerns multiple characters and as such will remain relevant.Riordan, Mary Marguerite. Lillian Hellman: A Bibliography, 1926-1978. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1980. An extensive annotated bibliography that focuses on the wide variety of Hellman’s writing, including her contributions to newspapers and periodicals, and provides an index of letters, manuscripts, and recordings. The detailed index gives numbered references for each play.
Categories: Characters