The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Mary’s odd nature defies her ordinary appearance. As a child, she performs a miracle, falling on the school playground ice and leaving a “manifestation” that is interpreted by the nuns as the face of Jesus. Mary sees only Karl’s face in the imprint, while Celestine sees nothing at all. Mary’s power to tell fortunes and foresee the future arouses fear in some of the other characters. Sita’s mental illness and Dot’s bad temper are blamed on her. Even the clothes she wears, tasselled turbans and wild prints, contribute to her oddness. Like other characters in the book, Mary does not develop over time but becomes more deeply what she is.
Karl would seem to be a weak, irresponsible man by his actions. He abandons Mary when they are children, he moves in and out of Wallace’s house according to whim, and he changes jobs frequently. It is Celestine who asks him to leave when she is pregnant, however, and he agrees to the formality of a marriage after the baby is born. The way he is presented depends upon which character is speaking at any given time. He is frequently associated with Christian images, and sometimes with Satanic ones. When he visits Sita, she sees him sinking into the soft grass beneath her garden chairs until he is swallowed up by earth. Karl refers to himself as a “poor fool,” and he may represent the fool of the tarot cards that Mary reads. He is the most ambiguous figure in the novel.
Celestine, who is half...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Mary Adare, daughter of the novel’s principal family. Abandoned by their mother, Adelaide, she and her brother Karl flee Minneapolis, she to her Aunt Fritzie and Uncle Pete’s butcher shop in Argus, which she eventually takes over. Her rivalry with her cousin Sita is balanced by her lifelong friendship and work-partnership with Celestine, the half-Indian mother of Dot by Karl. As her fierce motherliness focuses on Dot, she grows into a formidable, eccentric, and occasionally mystical woman.
Karl Adare, a bisexual man who wanders across the Midwest. He occupies a series of jobs—most in sales—and has brief but momentous affairs with Celestine and with Wallace Pfef. Although his periodic communications, bizarre gifts, and returns to Argus punctuate the book, he remains an enigmatic presence. At the end, he rescues and reunites with Wallace, realizing what he has missed.
Celestine James, the daughter of Dutch and Regina. Regina belongs to the Kashpaw clan, among the most important Indian families in Erdrich’s multinovel North Dakota saga. Originally Sita’s friend, she is a strong, tall, hardworking woman. She also is the mother of the eponymous Beet Queen, whose upbringing becomes the only major conflict in her friendship with Mary.
Sita Kozka, the daughter of Pete and Fritzie Adare Kozka. Beautiful...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
The action of The Beet Queen covers forty years — from 1932 to 1972. Erdrich, however, does not present a detailed chronological narration, however, and the story sometimes jumps as much as a decade between scenes.
After Adelaide's abandonment of her three children at the opening of the novel it appears that Mary and Karl Adare will be central characters. But Karl vanishes and Mary moves to the forefront of the action. Soon it becomes evident that several characters, in addition to Mary and Karl, are important: Celestine James, Mary's native American friend; Sita Kozka, Mary's cousin; Wallace Pfef, a town leader in Argus; Dot Adare, Karl and Celestine's daughter; and Russell Kashpaw, Celestine's brother. Although a number of other characters appear in The Beet Queen (many also make appearances in Tracks, 1988 and Love Medicine, 1984), they are not central to the novel's action.
Mary Adare, a lover of the occult, is a commanding presence; she is short, heavy, and industrious. When her aunt and uncle move to the Southwest, they leave their business, a butcher shop, to Mary, since she likes the work and is good at it. Mary, fearing rejection, steals the affection of her aunt and uncle from Sita, their daughter. While they admire their stylish daughter, they like Mary.
Mary also steals from Sita the friendship of Celestine James, a six foot native American woman. Both live outside notions of conventional...
(The entire section is 818 words.)