Character of Yank in The Hairy Ape.



Give a character sketch of Yank.


Sketch the character of Yank.


What are your ideas about Yank?


Give an estimate of the character of Yank.


The Hairy Ape 3Answer: Yank, the protagonist of the play The Hairy Ape, is a humble stoker whose business it is to shovel coal into the furnace of the ship’s engine. For long hours, he has to work in the cramped and low-roofed stokehole. He is beastly, filthy and coarse. He cannot think; he can use only physical force. But he has a sense of identity and sense of belonging to the ship. He is superior to the other stokers in the sense that he is physically more powerful than the rest. He has ape like physical strength and ape, like grossness. He is illusion obsessed and isolated. He identifies himself with a hairy ape. He is a tragic hero because he suffers a tragic end. He is Also a symbol.

Yank has a strong sense of belonging. He thinks that he belongs to the ship and he is a vital part of the ship. He says to Paddy, his fellow-stoker, that ‘he belongs’ while Paddy does not ‘belong’. In a forceful speech showing his self-confidence and feeling of security, he exclaims, “Sure I’m part of de engines! Why da hell, not! Dey move, don’t dey? Dey’re speed, ain’t dey?  It’s me makes it hot! It’s me makes it roar! It’m me makes it move! Sure, only for me everything stops.   I’m steam and oil for de engines; I’m I’m smoake and express train.” Yank is illusioned because he does not realize that he is owned and controlled 17Weinen who own the steel and the great material progress has been achieved at the cost of the spiritual values.

Yank is physically strong like an ape. An ape is the embodiment of physical strength and primitive simplicity; it has little brains, but a lot of sinews and muscles. It is incapable of thought and knows only the use of physical force, by which it can cause great destruction. It is exactly these qualities which Yank has. He is hairy-chested with long arms of tremendous power. He is broader, fiercer and more powerful than the other stokers. Indeed, he and his companions crouching in the stokehole remind one of the pictures of the primitive Neanderthal man. Yank has great capacity for work. He can work for long hours unfatigued and can inhale smoke and coal unaffected. Like the hairy ape, he has immense physical strength and great capacity for destruction.


Yank has ape-like grossness. In the beginning, we find that he is quite in harmony with his work, quite confident of himself and proud of his superior strength. As he says again and again, he “belongs”, while Paddy, Long and other stokers do not “belong”. However his confident sense of “belongingness is soon shattered. Mildred Douglas, a student of sociology, comes down into the forecastle at a time when Yank is murderously flourishing his shovel above his head, and shouting and cursing and pounding his-hest with the other hand, “gorilla like”. The impact of his “abysmal brutality, naked and shameless is too much for her. As she faints, she calls him “the filthy beast”, and as Yank is told later, she looks at him as if he were a “hairy ape” escaped from the zoo. Yank feels insulted in the very heart of his pride. Till the very end of his day Yank is able to forget neither the spectacle of the girl in white looking at him with terror in her eyes, nor the way in which he had been insulted.

Yank is a man with an obsession with the thought that he is a “hairy ape” Throughout the play; he broods and broods over the words “hairy ape” used for him. Desire for revenge burns hot in his heart. He must get even with her. He does not shave or clean himself. More and more he comes to look like a hairy ape. His desire for revenge carries him to the Fifth Avenue. Not finding Mildred, he attacks some people. Then he tries to pluck the street kerbing and next tries to pull off a lamp post to use it as a club. He strikes his fist forcefully in the face of a fat man, rushing to catch a bus. In short, he behaves thoughtlessly like a hairy ape. As a result he is arrested and is sent to jail. In the prison he thinks that he is a hairy ape imprisoned in a cage.

Yank is isolated and alienated. His sense of belongingness is shattered when Mildred Douglas, the daughter of a steel tycoon, throws the remark “the filthy beast” at Yank. Later on, Paddy, a fellow stoker, told him that she looked as if she had seen a great hairy ape escaped from the zoo. Yank feels utterly insulted and loses his sense of belonging. He attempts to take revenge on the girl but he cannot find her. Not finding her, he attacks some people and is taken to prison. When he is released from prison he goes to the I.W.W where he is rejected and ejected out of the office. Then he goes to the zoo and visits a gorilla and tries to befriend him but the gorilla also rejects him and kills him. He is neither accepted in human society nor in the animal society. He is utterly lonely.


Yank is, besides being a tragic hero, a symbol which has many-sided significance. In order to understand why or how Yank is a symbol, it is necessary to understand the nature of a symbol, and how or what it does function as a symbol. Simply expressed, a symbol means anything that stands for something else. Coleridge’s definition of symbol seems to be most appropriate in exemplifying the symbolic significance of the character, Yank, in The Hairy Ape. Coleridge defined symbol as something “characterized by a translucence of the special in the individual.”

Yank is an individual character in the play, but in him we get a translucence of the special. That means he does not remain an individual, but his individuality spreads over a class, a species of people. He stands for everyman, in the sense that what happens to Yank’s life is happening to the millions of men in the modern age dominated by science and technology. Yank also stands as a symbol for the decay and degeneration of the spiritual and intellectual values in an extremely materialized age. His terrible, frightful end, his death at the hands of a horrifying ape contributes to this symbolic function of Yank. Yank is a symbol also of an isolated and alienated proletariat, dehumanized in an industrialized urbane civilization all over the world. He is the symbol of a typical modern man brutalized by machinery and industry, and reduced to a Neanderthal man through a regress due to mechanization.

Yank, the protagonist of the play, is a successful creation of the dramatist’s artistic vision.