71 pages 2 hours read

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1941

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Important Quotes

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“...well, if I know what pure kindness and absolute generosity are, it’s because I’ve known the Brewster sisters.”

(Act I, Page 9)

This quote from Reverend Harper demonstrates the Brewster sisters’ reputation. Everyone they meet views them as loving and selfless. By providing this detail at the onset of the play, Kesselring’s reveal about their character is all the more jarring—and hilarious.

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“HARPER. Have you ever tried to persuade him that he wasn’t Teddy Roosevelt?

ABBY. Oh, no!

MARTHA. He’s so happy being Teddy Roosevelt.”

(Act I, Page 12)

This line shows the sisters’ devotion to their nephew, Teddy. Even though they have taken care of him well into adulthood, they still cherish him and accept him as President Roosevelt since it brings him joy. This shows the sisters’ character by demonstrating how much they value family, and indicates the absurdity of the Brewster family dynamic.

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“Mortimer, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you quote the bible. We knew Elaine would be a good influence for you.”

(Act I, Page 19)

While Mortimer uses the biblical quote in jest, this comment from Abby suggests that Elaine has generally improved Mortimer’s life. He is genuinely excited to be engaged to her, and the sisters look forward to welcoming her into the family. Kesselring also humorously aligns the murderous aunts with religious morality and upholding social norms; they see Mortimer as in need of moral instruction, but have no qualms about committing murder.