List the characters referred to in the play’s conversations and briefly state the function served by the playwright’s inclusion of each (one sentence per character).
Marsha Norman uses the characters in the play’s conversation to concisely summarize Jessie’s life and even though it does not condone Jessie’s suicidal intent, it gives a reason and almost a justification for it.
The play begins with the mention of Jessie’s brother, Dawson. He has a family of his own and despite being there for his mother and sister when the need arises, he is not really someone Jessie can talk to or share her feelings with. Loretta is his wife who, according to Jessie, thinks she is “too good” for Thelma and her; this underlines the fact that their family is not too close-knit. The conversation then shifts to Jessie’s father who appears to be the only person Jessie has fond memories of. However, since he is dead now, this reiterates the loneliness in Jessie’s life. There is also mention of Tim, the ambulance; this man can be interpreted as an allusion to Jessie not having friends.
The conversation then transitions to Jessie’s husband and son. Cecil, Jessie’s husband, left her because of her “fits” and Ricky is Jessie’s delinquent son. The conversation about them emphasizes the rejection and utter hopelessness in her life.
In order to relieve herself of the guilt she feels for leaving her mother to spend the rest of her life alone, Jessie presents Agnes as a probable companion before finally saying “’night, mother.”