Intimate Apparel | Study Guide

Lynn Nottage

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Intimate Apparel | Character Analysis



Esther believes she is unlikely to marry. She loves the fabric seller Mr. Marks but believes their racial and cultural differences prevent a closer relationship. When a letter arrives from a Barbadian man—George—working on building the Panama Canal, she enters into a correspondence with him. However, because she is illiterate, she depends on others to read his letters and write her replies. When he proposes, Esther agrees. Their marriage quickly sours, however, and George spends most of his time away from home. He seems to return only to ask for money and has taken up with another woman. Still, Esther keeps trying to save their marriage. After months together, they remain complete strangers. When George finally leaves with her life savings and gambles it away in one night, Esther returns to her old life to begin anew, but with a deeper understanding of herself and the realities of love.

Mr. Marks

Mr. Marks is deeply religious and committed to the traditions of his family and culture. Yet his greatest delight comes from Esther's visits. They share a sensuous pleasure in beautiful fabrics and a fascination with the history of those fabrics. They also share a love of their individual faiths and a desire to do what will bring pleasure to others. Over the course of the play, Mr. Marks's adherence to the strictest rules of his religion and traditions weakens as his love for Esther grows. Their love is revealed in small gestures with great meaning.


Throughout Act 1 Esther receives poetic letters from a man who seems sensitive and good. However, she later learns George paid someone to write the letters, and the man Esther has married is quite different. After their wedding, George quickly becomes resentful and sullen. Although he claims to be looking for work, he wants to work only on his terms and won't entertain the notion of learning a new trade. He constantly asks Esther for money and spends it on alcohol and, as it turns out, on Mayme. Mayme calls him "Songbird." The name is appropriate because he uses his mellifluous voice and musical accent to talk women into doing what he wants. Yet his actions invariably fail to live up to his words.

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