Summary and Analysis
The setting now is the garden in an expensive and pretentious villa in Granada. Enry Straker enters with an elderly Irishman. The chauffeur had been asked to deliver a note to Hector at the latter's hotel. He was and still is confused by the fact that this stranger had been identified as Hector Malone but had complied with the request to bring him along to the villa when told that "it's all right." Now he learns that the Irishman does not even know Violet Robinson's name. Violet enters, and the Irishman identifies himself as Hector Malone, Sr. (hereafter referred to as Malone to distinguish him from his son, Hector, Jr.). Throughout this first part of the scene, there is an amusing exchange between Enry and Malone on the subject of their respective dialects. Violet apologizes for any rudeness of which the confident Straker may have been guilty: "But what can we do? He is our chauffeur." A man of his mechanical skill is indispensable; all are dependent upon him.
The note had made Malone aware of his son's deep interest in some woman unknown to him; now he is told that Hector wants to marry Violet. He tells her that his son "will not have a rap" from him if his son does so because he has other plans. Malone concedes that Violet is an amiable and excellent young lady but, like his son, too romantic to be concerned with money. And he is staggered when Violet calmly states that she is not that foolish and that Hector must have money. Then he must work for it, Malone retorts. Work! There is no use having money if you have to work — it's nonsense, Violet replies coolly. But she almost loses her control when Malone advises her not to marry on the strength of such a belief. Is not her social position as good as Hector's, she next asks? The father states that his son's social position is exactly what he chooses to buy for him, and he makes it clear that he is dead-set on having Hector marry the daughter of an aristocrat. He concedes that he would not object if his son had chosen to marry a barefooted Irish girl as his own grandmother had been. Under such circumstances, Malone would not have denied the young man financial help since the expenditure involved "social profit." But if Hector married Violet, things would be "just like they are"; that is, he would remain middle class.
When Violet observes that many of her relatives would object to her marrying the grandson of a peasant and adds that there is obviously prejudice on both sides, Malone cannot help respecting her as "a pretty straightforward downright sort of young woman." Yet he remains firm: "I want no middle class properties and no middle class woman for Hector." The subsequent discussion about what the father should do for the son and what Violet could for him is interrupted by Hector's arrival, much to Violet's annoyance since she wanted more time to win over Malone to her point of view. Hector, playing the role of the complete man of honor, is indignant with his father for having opened the letter: "That's disawnerable." But Violet, dreading a scene, urges him to be reasonable, for Malone's name was on the envelope.
As father and son mutely glare at each other, Tanner, Ramsden, Octavius, and Ann come in. Ramsden is solicitous about Violet and Tanner about Hector since both had claimed to be indisposed and thus unable to join the others on a visit to the Alhambra. When Violet asks her husband to introduce his father to the new arrivals, Hector bluntly refuses: "He is no father of mine." She implores the two not to make a scene as the astonished Ann and Octavius withdraw. Violet can only look on "in helpless annoyance as her husband soars to higher and higher moral eminences without the least regard to the old man's millions." Tanner complicates the matter by letting the cat out of the bag. Malone learns that Violet is already married and assumes that his son has been pursuing a married woman. "You've picked up the habit of the British aristocracy, have you?" he almost shouts into his son's ear. So Hector has no alternative but to avow his marriage to Violet. "She's married a beggar," says the crushed Malone. But the son rejects the appellation; he is now a Working Man, having just started to earn his living that very afternoon. He is done with remittances from a man who insults his wife. The romantic Octavius is moved almost to tears by the apparent nobility of Hector's declaration of independence and begs to be allowed to shake his hand. Violet also is on the verge of tears, but not for the same reason. "Oh, don't be an idiot, Tavey," she exclaims in vexation.
When both Tanner and Octavius generously offer to help Hector get a good start, Malone changes his tune, now jealous that anyone but him should assist his son. He urges Hector not to be rash and makes abject apologies to Violet, describing her as just the wife his son wants. So all seems well that has ended well for the newlyweds. But Hector, still presenting himself as the man of high principles, is determined to be independent of his father, who urges Violet to bring the young man to his senses. At this point, he readily accepts her advice to do nothing without consulting her and eagerly gives her a thousand-dollar bill, Hector's "bachelor allowance." As Tanner observes the subservience of this multimillionaire, "one of the master spirits of the age," he wonders whether he will ever be reduced to such a state by a woman. Ramsden states that the sooner he is, the better for him.
After Violet leaves, Malone is elated. "That'll be a grand woman for Hector. I wouldn't exchange her for ten duchesses," he exclaims. In the conversation between Malone, Tanner, and Ramsden, it is revealed that the millionaire's investment in Mendoza, Limited, about which he knows nothing, had brought him to Granada. Jack informs him that Mendoza is a man who is thoroughly commercial and promises to take Malone to him. The Irishman and Ramsden depart. Tanner calls to Octavius, who is walking in the garden with Ann, and tells him that his sister's father-in-law is "a financier of brigands." He hurries after Malone and Ramsden.
Octavius now tries once more to win the hand of the girl he worships. But Ann tells him that she has no voice in the matter because her mother is determined that she will marry Jack. For a moment, Tavy believes that his friend has been false to him in urging him not to marry Ann, but she insists that such is not the case, adding that Jack does not really know his own mind. She then tells Tavy that not only is her mother dead set on her marrying Jack, but the will clearly indicates that her father wished her to do so. Octavius sees all this as proof that Ann is the dutiful, self-sacrificing daughter who will marry a man she does not love. Ann feels a faint impulse of pity for this young romantic, and she does her best to let him down gently. Thus she points out that he would always worship the ground she walked on and she could never live up to his idea of divinity. He would not become disillusioned if she married Jack; so he must remain a sentimental bachelor with his romantic dreams for her sake. Tavy vows that he will kill himself, but Ann tells him that such an act would be unkind. She concedes that Jack has no illusions about her but is sure that, sometimes at least, she will enchant him. No, Tavy must not tell Jack that she wants to marry him; he would run away again. Tavy is shocked. Would Ann marry an unwilling man, he asks incredulously? He is told that there is no such thing as an unwilling man when the woman really goes after him: "The only really simple thing is to go straight for what you want and grab it." Her advice to Tavy is to keep away from women and to be content to dream about them. Still with the best intentions, Ann continues to school Tavy in the subject of women. Violet, she says, is "hard as nails," but she has great respect for the woman who is practical and who gets her own way and does so without making people sentimental about her. Tavy passionately insists that he could never marry a designing woman — not after knowing and loving Ann. Poetic to the last, he admits defeat if not comprehension. Ann pats his cheek as she says goodbye and runs into the villa.
Mrs. Whitefield enters and runs to the weeping Tavy. She learns that, following her mother's wishes, Ann intends to marry Jack. Mrs. Whitefield endeavors to enlighten him, but he cannot believe that Ann would be guilty of deceit. Tanner enters, announces that he had left the two brigands, Mendoza and Malone, together, and then asks Tavy what is the matter. Tavy sadly asks Mrs. Whitefield to tell Jack what she wishes and then leaves. Jack is puzzled, and the mother comments on how all life seems to have become so complicated: "Nothing has been right since that speech Professor Tyndale made at Belfast." (The reference is to Tyndale's famous address before the British Association for the Advancement in Science which was delivered in the early 1870s and in which the physicist declared that there was no reason to believe that mind was separate from matter.) Jack agrees that life has indeed become involved and asks what he can do for her. She states that, whatever her wishes may be, Jack will certainly marry Ann, but he is not to blame the mother. Tanner emphatically replies that he has no intention of marrying Ann. Mrs. Whitefield expresses her hope that the two will marry, for she would like to see her daughter meet her match. Jack knows Ann for what she is, and Jack demonstrates his knowledge by describing Ann as an unscrupulous liar, a coquette, one who bullies women, and a hypocrite. He could stand everything except her "confounded hypocrisy." Mrs. Whitefield readily agrees with him and explains that, fond as she is of Tavy, she does not wish to see him suffer, whereas Jack would take care of himself very well. She adds that he must not think that she does not love Ann, her own flesh and blood, merely because she sees her daughter's faults.
Both Ann and Violet enter, the former saying that she had heard the entire conversation. Violet has come to say her farewells. She tells Jack that the sooner he gets married too, the better. Aware that the trap is closing in on him, he restively remarks that he will probably end up a married man before the day is over. Mrs. Whitefield, in tears at the thought of Violet's departure, accompanies the bride offstage.
Ann is now alone with Tanner once more. Jack bewails the fact that everyone, even Ramsden, now treats him as if his marriage to Ann were a settled matter. Ann placidly remarks that she had not proposed to him and that he need not be married if he did not want to be. But Jack sees himself as a condemned man who has no control over his fate. He explosively denounces marriage as an "apostasy, profanation of my soul, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat." The sparring match between the two continues in lively fashion as Ann woos the reluctant Tanner, now without dissimulation. From their childhood, she argues, the Life Force had prepared a trap for them. Still Jack protests that he will not marry her. "Oh, you will, you will," she replies. At last he seizes her in his arms, declaring that he does love her and the Life Force enchants him. When he makes one last effort to escape her embrace, she swoons.
Most of the other characters return to the stage — Violet, Octavius, Mrs. Whitefield, Malone, Ramsden, Mendoza, and Straker. All are concerned for the well-being of Ann, who revives sufficiently to announce that Jack has promised to marry her. When Tavy bravely congratulates his friend, Jack tells him that he had not proposed but had been trapped. Ann is relieved when Violet tells her that Jack had said nothing. She appears to faint again but recovers to say that she is now quite happy. Malone is quite impressed with Jack, whom he sees as "a rough wooer," the best sort. All congratulate Jack on his happiness. But in his last speech of any length, he describes his status. He is not a happy man. Both he and Ann have knowingly renounced happiness, freedom, tranquility, and especially "the romantic possibilities of an unknown future." The wedding will be the simplest possible. It will take place three days after their return to England, and it will be in the office of the district superintendent registrar. Violet calls Jack a brute, but Ann looks at him with fond pride and caresses his arm. "Go on talking," she says. "Talking!" exclaims Jack, and universal laughter bursts forth as the play ends.