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Mildred Douglas, the picture of piety and service, is anything but. Mildred is the pale and feeble daughter of the owner of Nazareth Steel. She has been lavishly spoiled and enjoyed every possible privilege money can buy. In college, Mildred studied sociology and is on a crusade to help the poor. Mildred has previously worked with the disadvantaged people in New York's Lower East Side. Mildred's Aunt is accompanying her to Europe where she will embark on more service projects. While on the Ocean Liner Mildred asks permission to visit the lower portions ship to view how the "other half" (Yank and the firemen) live. As if on a trip to the zoo, she wears a bright white dress down into the stokehole, ignoring the Engineer's warning that is will get dirty from the coal dust.
Although Mildred should be considered the antagonist of The Hairy Ape, she is equally victimized by class as Yank. Though Mildred has more education and cultural experience than Yank, she still cannot escape her cultural identity. Mildred describes herself as the waste of her father's steel company, as she has felt the benefits, but not the hard work that brought them. She shares with Yank the need to find a sense of usefulness or belonging—the fate of both characters were decided before they were born. Thus, Yank and Mildred desperately search to find an identity that is their own.
The failure of both these characters lies in their conscious and unconscious refusal to shed their values and knowledge while searching for a new identity. For example, Mildred will not change out of her white dress and Yank's coal dust is saturated into his skin.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Hairy Ape!