This section contains 2,393 words
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The Desperate Hours Summary & Study Guide Description
The Desperate Hours Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
Jesse Bard is a deputy sheriff. He is put in charge of the investigation of the jailbreak because he has special knowledge of Glenn Griffin. Seven years earlier, when Glenn was arrested, Bard was unwilling to see him taken to the safety of a jail cell, after shooting a policeman to death in cold blood, and so he punched Glenn as he surrendered, breaking his jaw. Glenn considered this act a betrayal, and vowed revenge. Glenn has come to Indianapolis to kill Bard. When he first hears that Glenn is coming to town, Bard calls his wife and sends her into hiding, without telling her why. Later, Glenn sends money to a professional assassin named Flick to kill Bard, but the police intercept the money and arrest the killer before he can get to Bard. In the end, it is Bard who shoots Glenn as Glenn leaves the Hilliard house with his gun raised.
Carson is the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent assigned to Glenn Griffin's jailbreak. He goes to the Indianapolis police station because he knows of Glenn's vow to take his revenge on Deputy Bard. As a result, he is present during much of the investigation, while at other times he calls in information on the radio. Carson serves as a conscience to Bard, reminding him that viciousness like Glenn Griffin's is rare.
Dutch is the dispatcher at the police station. He does not appear onstage; his voice is heard over the intercom system, announcing calls from outside.
Lt. Carl Fredericks
Fredericks is a lieutenant with the state police. The search for the escaped convicts is in his jurisdiction. His voice, when it comes across the intercom at the police station, is described as "crisp, middle-aged, cynical." He later appears onstage at the Indianapolis police station as the evidence indicates that the convicts are in town. Later in the play, it is Fredericks who advocates attacking the escaped convicts in the Hilliard house, preferring the chance that some of the Hilliard family will be injured to the idea of what would happen if these ruthless convicts escape into society at large.
Glenn Griffin is considered by the police to be a very dangerous prisoner, a threat of the highest order to society. He is young, not yet twenty-five, and already an infamous criminal mastermind. Seven years before the play is set, Glenn was involved in a shoot-out with the police. He killed an officer and then, when he had no chance of escape, he surrendered, laughing. Jesse Bard broke his jaw while taking him into custody. Now that he has broken out of jail, Glenn is the leader of the trio of escaped convicts, the one with the brains and the nerve to control the operation.
Glenn is motivated by two things in this play. One is his urge to take revenge on Bard, which has been his driving passion for the years that he has been in prison; it forces him to keep his gang in Indianapolis when it seems that they might have a better chance to elude capture if they kept moving. His other main motive is his protectiveness toward his younger brother, Hank. "Hank, you're all I got," he says at one point. "You know that. It's you'n me against'em all!" This concern turns to a maniacal rage when Hank leaves, in part because of worry about Hank's fate and in part because Glenn feels rejected.
Psychologically, Glenn is at his most dangerous when he equates Dan Hilliard with his father. He looks with scorn at the domestic tranquility of the Hilliard household, contrasting it to the abusive situation in which he grew up and causing Glenn to do what he can to upset the household in ways that are not really necessary for his escape or revenge plans. He calls Dan Hilliard "Pop," and at one point during an argument with Hank, Glenn says, "If Hilliard was our old man, he'd have something coming to him from way back!" Dan Hilliard sees this transference happening, and it drives him to action that he might not otherwise have to take: as he explains to Eleanor, "Griffin hates me. He hated me before he even saw me. I can't explain it. Every hour some new black hole appears in him. He's cracking up, Ellie." In Glenn's final moments, the division between fantasy and reality dissolves completely: he shouts at Dan Hilliard that he is leaving and taking Hank with him, and that the older man can never hurt either of them again, clearly thinking that he is talking to his own father.
Hank is Glenn's younger brother. He was in prison for three years before escaping. Because of his youth, and the troubled family life that led him into crime, Hank has had little contact with ordinary, well-adjusted living. During the course of the play, it is clear from the way that he looks around the Hilliard house that he is just beginning to realize what he has missed.
The main aspect about a non-criminal life that Hank seems to regret having missed is love. He looks longingly at Cindy Hilliard, who is about his age, and is protective of her when Glenn or Robish threatens her. He points out to Glenn that he has never had a date in his life, and Glenn tells him that when their escape is successful he will be able to date all the women he wants. The women that would be available to him, though, would be like Glenn's girlfriend, Helen Laski, whom Hank rejects because "she's a tramp." Eventually, Hank decides to leave the hostage situation and strike out on his own; as he explains that he will not be caught, he calls Dan "Mr. Hilliard," showing a degree of respect that infuriates Glenn. News comes later that Hank died in a gun battle with the police soon after leaving.
Cindy is nineteen years old and works for a law firm, Swisshelm and Edwards. She is dating Chuck Wright, an attorney with the firm, of whom her father disapproves. Much is made of the fact that Cindy's hair is red: Glenn often calls her "redhead," so that, when her boyfriend calls her by that name, Cindy recoils in horror.
Cindy has a strong disposition; she is willing to talk back to the convicts, telling them how much she despises them. She is also clever enough to trick them, feigning illness in order to take advantage of Hank Griffin's concern about her. Because she is a young woman and they are brutal men, the play hints that she might be abused by them at any moment when she is present. She is often gone from the situation, however; during the two days when the ordeal takes place, she goes off to work during the day, and in the evenings, she goes out with Chuck.
Dan Hilliard is the play's main character, the protagonist. He is an executive with a department store and lives a stable family life. He has been married to the same woman for over twenty years and has a cheerful, easy rapport with his children. The events that occur in his house drive him to the verge of animalistic violence that he has never used before in his life. As Dan explains to Glenn, he finds that he has it within him to murder the convicts if any harm comes to his family.
When he is first faced with the fact that his home has been overtaken, Dan is cautious, willing to give the intruders whatever they want with the hope that they will go away. His son urges him to resist, but he tries to convince him that cooperation would be the better course of action. As the play develops, however, Dan sees the danger his family faces. He worries about the threat that Robish poses to Cindy's virtue; he realizes that the kidnappers will want to take his wife and daughter as hostages when they leave; and he recognizes Glenn Griffin's growing hatred of him as a father figure. After being beaten by them at the end of the first act, he decides that he can disable the convicts by making them empty their gun's bullets into him, and he is ready to give up his life in this way until his wife, Eleanor, points out that the other family members will still be in danger.
At the end of the play, Dan faces Glenn with a loaded gun, and the criminal taunts him, telling him to shoot. Dan realizes that he cannot; despite all that has happened, he really is not a killer, and he thanks God for it. Rather than resorting to murder, Dan asserts mastery of his domain by slapping the powerless Glenn and ordering him out of his house.
Eleanor is the mother of the Hilliard household. Whenever the other members of her family think of ways in which they can fight against the convicts who have taken over their home, Eleanor finds herself in a position of begging them to keep calm and to give the intruders whatever they want, in order to ensure peace. In particular, she makes a concerted effort to stop her husband from provoking the criminals' violence, telling him that he is the "hub" of the family and reminding him of the grave danger that she and the children would face, if anything should happen to him.
Ralphie is eleven years old and has an independent streak, as exemplified by the way he reminds his father that his name is really "Ralph." When he realizes that the family is being held by criminals, he concocts a plan to sneak out of an upstairs window and run for help; his father talks him out of it, but Ralphie is not clearly convinced that his father is not a coward. He escapes from the house at the end of act 1, but it just happens to be the time when the criminals have been forced outside, and Ralphie is taken captive. Later, he decides to act on his own by slipping a note into his essay for his teacher, which Dan intercepts before she can see it.
In one of the play's most poignant moments, Glenn Griffin forces Dan to beat Ralphie, as punishment for the note to his teacher. Readers cannot see what effect this beating has on the relationship between father and son until the end of the play, when Glenn has a gun at Ralphie's head and Ralphie has complete trust in Dan, who convinces Ralphie that if he runs away he will not be harmed.
Helen does not appear on stage, but is only discussed. She is Glenn Griffin's girlfriend, and is going to bring money to him. As soon as he escapes from prison in Terre Haute, the police find her in Pittsburgh, but she manages to lose them. They pick up her trail again, but a routine traffic stop in Columbus makes her nervous, and she goes into hiding, eventually just mailing the money she was bringing to Glenn, and arranging to meet him in Louisville.
Patterson is the trash collector at the Hilliards' house. He is sixty-three years old and arthritic. When he comes to the door for payment, he notices that the house is in disarray, and later the convicts watch him look through the garage window at their car, hidden there, and write down its license plate number. Robish runs out to Patterson's truck, climbs in it, forces the old man to drive out of town, and shoots him.
Robish escaped from the federal penitentiary, along with the Griffin brothers. Of the three convicts, he is possibly the most dangerous because he is the most brutal. Still, he is not very intelligent, and knows he will have to rely on Glenn's brains if the jailbreak is going to be successful.
Early in the play, when Robish is drunk and threatening Cindy, Hank Griffin hits him on the head to knock him out, and he realizes that he is the most expendable member of the gang. When Robish is sent out after Mr. Patterson, he gets his hands on a gun, and for a large section in the middle of the play, Robish feels he is in a position to give commands to the other convicts. In the end, he panics, running out to the policemen who are waiting outside.
Miss Swift is Ralphie's teacher. When Ralphie does not come to school, she goes to the house, worried because he is otherwise such a fine student. She sees the disruption caused by the convicts, including empty liquor bottles around the house, and becomes suspicious that the Hilliard household might be dysfunctional. Dan Hilliard, in order to get her out of the house without suspecting the presence of the convicts, plays an abusive drunk, encouraging her bad opinion.
Winston is a deputy sheriff. At the beginning of the play, he is finishing a night shift, during which time he has taken the information that Glenn Griffin and his associates escaped from jail, but he does not understand the significance of the news.
Chuck is a young lawyer in the firm where Cindy Hilliard works. He is in love with Cindy and asks her to marry him, but she is hesitant because she knows that her father objects to the idea. Throughout the play, he is frustrated because Cindy is cold to him; he does not realize that she is being cold in order to keep him away from the deadly drama in her house.
When Chuck realizes that the escaped criminals who have been reported on the radio are in the Hilliard house, he offers to sneak into the house with a gun. The police tell him that such a plan would be foolish, but he goes ahead with it anyway. In the house, Chuck is shot by Robish. His effort is not wasted, though; Robish is subsequently shot by the police, and Dan uses Chuck's gun in a face-off against Glenn Griffin. Injured, Chuck is able to walk out of the house with Eleanor's help, indicating that he will be all right.
This section contains 2,393 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)