In The Jungle of Cities: Character Profiles
Collie Couch, known as The Baboon
The Baboon is a pimp who operates from the Chinese hotel in a seedy part of Chicago. He is one of the gangsters in Shlink’s underground. He seduces Jane Larry into a life of prostitution, promising her what she wants. She is a poor seamstress and starving to death. Jane remains with The Baboon, even after her marriage to George Garga. The Baboon is upset with Shlink for giving away his business. At some point, he breaks with Shlink.
J. Finnay, known as The Worm
The Worm runs the Chinese Hotel, where crime and prostitution flourish. He is a member of Shlink’s underground. After Shlink gives away his business, he moves his things to this hotel and maintains a room there. The Worm also breaks with Shlink over the Garga affair.
George Garga, usually designated as “Garga” in the play, is a bookish young man working as a clerk in Maynes’ Lending Library when the play opens. He likes to quote poetry, and in the play constantly refers to Rimbaud’s poem, “A Season in Hell.” He and his family have moved to Chicago from Ohio where they lived a simpler and more innocent life. Garga is one of the two main antagonists in the play. He fights to the death with the gangster Shlink. Shlink entangles George and his whole family in the Chicago underworld, corrupting the children, George and Marie, to lives of crime. George is rebellious and gets hooked on the fight Shlink offers him. He seems to have a love/hate addiction to Shlink with homosexual overtones, but battles to get free, finally doing so by arranging Shlink’s death. He calls himself the victor of the battle and goes to New York with the inheritance Shlink leaves him. He becomes hard and cruel during all these transactions. He is a heavy drinker, and before he met Shlink, used to be a lady’s man. He neglected his girlfriend, Jane, whom he eventually marries to get even with Shlink. He ends up alone, the way he wants it.
John is the father of George, a parasitic figure who believes his children should work to support their parents. He himself does nothing except criticize. He accepts prostitution money from his daughter Marie, while scolding her for what she does. His wife Mae leaves him. In the end, he lives with Marie and Manky.
Mae is George’s sensitive mother. She tries to protect her son from the gangsters, helping him to escape. He suggests they escape together, and she can cook for him, but he goes alone. Mae puts up with Shlink and his gangsters for so long, but when George goes to jail, she walks out of the family with no explanation and disappears. She is seen later scrubbing floors in a warehouse and looking serene.
Marie has a major role, forming a triangle with her brother George and Shlink. Shlink is obsessed with George, and Marie loves Shlink with no return from his side. Marie has been courted by Manky, a ship’s first mate, but she finds him boring and prefers the masochistic relationship with Shlink, the oriental gangster. She is attracted by his exotic evil nature and the fact that he rejects her. Marie is intuitive and sympathetic, seeing through her brother and Shlink and their battle. She becomes lovers with Shlink, though he probably agrees to it to hurt George. Her words form an important counterpoint to their violent exchanges. She describes the life of a woman as essentially that of a prostitute, selling herself to survive, whether married or on the street. She is loyally at Shlink’s side when he dies, then she agrees to live with Manky and her father.
Jane is Garga’s girlfriend, who is starving in Chicago as a seamstress. They spend their Sundays together, but George begins to neglect her. In desperation, she lets the pimp Baboon talk her into a life of prostitution. She is depressed and hates her life but feels she has no choice of where to go, saying she knew she would always end up in a Chinese flophouse, when they warned girls about it in high school. Even though Garga insults her, she accepts his proposal of marriage. When he goes to jail, she returns to The Baboon. When Garga gets out of jail, he tries to talk Jane into going home with him, but she refuses and stays with The Baboon.
Manky is the sailor who courts Marie Garga. He is simple, loyal, and not as intelligent as she is, so she resists. She knows she will not be happy with him. To escape the deadly triangle with her brother and Shlink, she agrees to live with Manky because he can support her. Later, after she returns to Shlink, Manky tracks them with a gun but talks himself out of doing anything violent. He does not have enough guts for such things. He buys Shlink’s burnt out lumber yard and settles down finally with Marie and John Garga, after Shlink’s death.
Maynes is the proprietor of Maynes’ Lending Library, Garga’s employer who fires him when Shlink’s gang accuses him of poor service. Maynes offers him a job after Garga gets out of jail, believing him to be wrongfully framed by Shlink. He seems to symbolize the respectable society of Chicago, because Garga brings him to the bar as a witness to see what Shlink has done to his family. Maynes is shocked to find Garga’s wife and sister are prostitutes. He typifies the racist outrage behind the lynch mob that wants to get Shlink for ruining white women. As a man, he feels sorry for Garga as the victim, rather than his women.
Salvation Army Officer
The Salvation Army Officer and his musicians come into Shlink’s lumber office. To revenge himself on Shlink, Garga gives the deed to the building to the Salvation Army, on the condition that the Officer must let someone spit in his face. He agrees to this, and Shlink does it. This breaks his spirit. Three years later, he is in the bar across from the prison and shoots himself there, trying to commit suicide. He fails.
C. Shlink is one of the two antagonists of the play, who reveals at his death that his true name is Wang Yen, born in Yokohama, in the northern province of Pei-Ho, under the constellation of the Tortoise. He lived a life of poverty as a boy, working as a slave laborer on a junk in the Yangtze River. Somehow, he ended up in Chicago and in over twenty years built a prosperous lumber business. Shlink is also an inscrutable member of Chicago’s underground, engaging in unspecified illegal activities with the pimp, Baboon, and the Chinese hotel owner, known as The Worm. Shlink’s gang goes after Garga and his family for no apparent reason, other than the fact that Shlink fancies Garga and likes him for his fighting spirit. At his death at the age of 54, he reveals he loves Garga, but Garga will never give him the satisfaction of loving or hating him. Shlink gives his business to Garga to entrap him, but Garga gets revenge by accusing Shlink of raping his sister, thus setting a lynch mob after him. Shlink takes poison just before the lynch mob arrives. He declares he is motivated to fight with others as the nearest approach he can make to breaking out of isolation and loneliness.
Skinny is the loyal Chinese clerk in Shlink’s lumber business. Garga orders Shlink to fire Skinny, and he does. Skinny is attracted to Marie.
Snubnose is a petty crook hanging out in the bar across from the prison. He gossips with the bartender to learn about the Garga case.