Hester Swane is a tough and earthy mother and lifelong resident of the Bog of Cats, a member of the "tinker" class. Her mother, Josie, was negligent and abandoned her when she was seven years old, and Hester has been awaiting her return ever since. She feels guilty for killing her brother, and walks the bog at night because she cannot sleep. She is a heavy drinker, and as she says to Caroline, there are two sides to her personality: one that is sweet and loving and another that is ruthless and violent.
When we meet her, Hester is losing everything in her life. Her lover, Carthage, is marrying a younger woman and they are kicking her out of the bog. Hester stubbornly refuses both their bribes and their threats throughout the play, insisting on staying in her caravan with her daughter, Josie. Hester is a haunted character, who is still disturbed by the traumas of the past, but whose pain has also seemingly brought her supernatural abilities, including the capacity to move between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Carthage Kilbride is a local middle-class man who was in a relationship with Hester Swane for much of his youth and even has a daughter with her. However, he left her after she murdered her brother, and is marrying Caroline Cassidy, a much-younger girl, when the play starts. Carthage is depicted as disloyal and bad at staying true to his convictions, at least in the eyes of Caroline and Hester.
Josie Kilbride is the daughter of Hester Swane and Carthage Kilbride. She is seven years old. She and Hester are very close, even though Hester cannot provide for her, and passes along a lot of her own trauma to Josie. While Josie is taken in by Carthage and Caroline's loving treatment of her, she is ultimately most loyal to her mother, and wants to stay with her as much as possible.
Mrs. Kilbride is Carthage Kilbride’s mother. She is a snobbish and self-absorbed person, who belittles her own granddaughter and sees herself as superior to Hester Swane. She is also very rude at her son's wedding, speaking out of turn and wearing a white dress that takes attention away from Caroline.
Monica Murray is a friend to Hester. She tries to help her leave in a peaceful and amicable way, but often fails to calm Hester's temper.
The Catwoman is a blind eccentric woman who lives on the bog, can foresee events from the future, and can commune with ghosts. She wears a coat made of cat skins, and was a maternal figure for Hester in her youth, when Hester's mother was negligent and nearly killed her. She is a kind of mythical figure with supernatural powers.
Xavier Cassidy is the father of Caroline Cassidy. He admits to Hester that he ran her mother away from the Bog of Cats. He has land and money and is well-respected in the town, but is also ruthless and violent towards Hester.
Caroline Cassidy is the daughter of Xavier Cassidy, and is about to marry Carthage Kilbride when the play begins. She lost her mother at a young age, and used to go to Hester for comfort as a young girl. She tries to be understanding towards Hester, but Hester is ruthless towards her and does not accept any of her olive branches.
The Ghost Fancier
The Ghost Fancier is a ghost who greets the newly dead.
The Ghost of Joseph Swane
The Ghost of Joseph Swane is the ghost of Hester’s brother, whom she murdered. She slit his throat in a fit of anger and jealousy, and he returns to speak with Hester about the incident.
By the Bog of Cats Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for By the Bog of Cats is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.