Edmund Tyrone: Edmund Tyrone is twenty-three years old and is the youngest member of the family. Unlike Jamie, he does not have his father’s strong constitution but takes more after his mother. He suffers from tuberculosis and must shortly go away to a sanatorium for treatment.
Edmund has led a restless life. His older brother was a bad influence on him, and he was expelled from college. After that he went to sea, ending up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He knows what it is like to work hard for low pay. Often in South America, he was broke and slept on park benches because he had nowhere else to go. Once he tried to commit suicide. At the time the play takes place, Edmund has a job as a reporter on a local newspaper, in which he also publishes some of his poems. His father hopes that he is now on the road to success, having found something he wants to do.
Edmund rejects the Catholicism of his father and is well read in modern poetry and philosophy. He has a gloomy attitude to life. Fond of his mother, he holds out hope for her as long as he possibly can, longer than the cynical Jamie. He has many resentments against his father, especially when Tyrone wants to send him to a cheap sanatorium. But by the end of the play he has a deeper understanding of why his father behaves the way he does. He also learns to understand the love-hate relationship he has with Jamie.
James Tyrone: James Tyrone is a vigorous, healthy man of sixty-five. His predominant trait, other than the fact that he drinks too much, is his miserliness, which is to blame for many of the family’s troubles. Tyrone refuses to spend money on their summer house to make it pleasant for his wife, and he tries to send Edmund to a state sanatorium just to save money. Although he is comparatively well off, Tyrone lives in fear of ending his days in poverty. He tries to secure his future by investing in real estate, but he rarely makes a good deal. The origins of his miserliness lie in his childhood. His father deserted the family and at the age of ten, Tyrone was sent to work long hours in a machine shop. The family was always poor, and Tyrone learned, as he frequently puts it, the value of a dollar.
Tyrone is an actor who as a young man was considered one of the most promising actors in America. But he squandered his talent by performing for years in a popular melodrama, thus getting typecast and ruining his chances of getting other, more challenging roles. He traded artistic excellence for financial success, and he bitterly regrets it. Tyrone is an Irish Catholic who despises his sons for rejecting the faith. He thinks Jamie is an idle, ungrateful loafer and has no respect for Edmund’s reading in poetry and philosophy, denouncing Edmund’s favorite authors as atheists and degenerates. Tyrone’s great love is Shakespeare, and he thinks all other writers are inferior.
Tyrone has a genuine love for his wife, but is thrust into despair when she lapses back into her addiction. He knows the situation is hopeless.
Jamie Tyrone: Jamie Tyrone is thirty-three years old. Physically, he takes after his father, and has the same robust constitution. But Jamie is a cynical man who is wasting his life. He was expelled from every college he ever attended, although he did acquire some training as an actor. With the help of his father he has had some success in that profession on Broadway, but he never saves any money and is broke by the end of the theater season. During the summer, he earns his keep at the Tyrones’ summer home by taking care of the grounds. But he spends most of his time drinking whiskey and hanging out at the brothels in town. He and his father, who thinks he is a lazy, ungrateful, good-for-nothing, quarrel bitterly throughout the play. Jamie has been a huge disappointment for his father. He has also been a bad influence on his brother. At first, he tries to deny this, saying that Edmund is stubborn and independent, but near the end of the play he admits that he has deliberately tried to make Edmund fail, since a successful brother would have made his own failure more galling.
Mary Tyrone: Mary Tyrone is fifty-four years old. She was once beautiful and still has a youthful figure, as well as a charming, innocent manner. But her manner also betrays extreme nervousness. Her hands are never still. They too were once beautiful, but have become gnarled and ugly through rheumatism.
Mary was raised in a prosperous home and she was devoted to her father, who died of consumption. Educated in a convent, she wanted to become a nun or a concert pianist, and she looks back at this period as a happy time in her life. She was introduced to James Tyrone by her father, and fell in love with him immediately. But their life together, although initially happy, was hard on her. She had to travel a lot, stay in lonely, cheap hotels and eat bad food. Her husband refused to spend enough money to make their summer home a pleasant one. One son, Eugene, died when he was two, and Mary blames herself because she left the baby with her mother so that she could accompany her husband on his travels. Weakened by the strain of their lifestyle, Mary became sick after giving birth to Edmund. She was prescribed morphine by an incompetent doctor and became addicted to it. She also feels guilty about Edmund’s bad health, since after Eugene’s death she felt she was not worthy of being a mother and that God would punish her if she gave birth again.
When the play begins, Mary has been home for two months after going away to get cured of her addiction, and Tyrone believes she has recovered. But it soon becomes obvious that she has not. She cannot face the fact that Edmund is seriously ill, claiming that he has nothing more than a common cold, and starts taking morphine again. This cushions her from reality, and as the play progresses she starts to live in the past, since the present is too painful for her to endure. By the end of the play, she has regressed completely into the past and talks as if she is still a girl at the convent.