Little Red Garlock, a violent and possibly retarded young man, is the product of Hammond’s underclass. He has been badly brought up by his racist mother, whose life is one of squalor and mental instability.
Duke Courtney has an addictive personality over which he has little control. Duke’s name suggests his identity as a “sporting gent” and inveterate gambler. This identity eventually takes precedence over his responsibilities as a husband and father.
Persia Courtney, the wife of Duke, was once a “golden girl” but has fallen on hard times. Persia is a free spirit whose name evokes the Orient, which in the Western imagination also links her to the irrational and the unconscious. She carries an aura of the erotic and the exotic, but she is often intoxicated, and she eventually succumbs to insanity and alcohol. Oates uses Persia to comment on Iris’s identity—there is a “Persia” side to her character. Mother and daughter both become involved with a black man; both are drawn toward forbidden love and out-of-bounds behavior.
Iris Courtney is the daughter of Duke and Persia. There are two sides to her personality. On the surface, she is a high achiever and a good girl; underneath is an overheated world of fear and desire. She papers over this side of herself with an agreeable persona. As a result, she becomes increasingly false and duplicitous; her outer being does not bear any resemblance to her inner self. Her name...
(The entire section is 518 words.)