The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Anna, the “good mother,” captures the sympathy of the reader from the start. As narrator, she shares her innermost thoughts with the reader, as well as her life and the characters who inhabit it. The story is told about four years after the events, and from Anna’s changing perceptions of the other characters, it is clear that she has grown wiser. Although she gains a deeper appreciation of the value of a real family, Anna is also proud of the way she has “made do” with her own circumstances. Yet the novel is ambiguous; although Anna never sinks into self-pity, conditions suggest that she is a victim.

Brian, Anna’s former husband, appears to be a thoroughly decent man, but he and Anna have a tepid relationship, and she is frigid throughout their marriage. When Brian’s law firm transfers him from Boston to Washington, Anna suggests that they separate. He has an affair with another woman who later becomes his wife while his marriage with Anna is dissolving. Later, when Anna discusses Brian with her psychiatrist in preparation for the custody battle, she wonders if he is not unconsciously punishing her for hurting him. Brian’s horror at the sexual indiscretions with Molly reflects the views of society at large, for he is a man who plays by the rules.

Leo, Anna’s lover, represents not only the sexual fulfillment that Anna lacked in her marriage but also a passionate approach to life that nobody in Anna’s circle has ever held. He...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

The Good Mother Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anna Dunlap

Anna Dunlap, the protagonist and first-person narrator. She tells of her struggles to survive after she leaves a loveless marriage, taking her daughter, Molly, with her. An uncertain young woman, Anna gives piano lessons and finds work in a laboratory. Other players in the novel are seen only through Anna’s eyes, so that except for Molly, they never become fully rounded characters. The events are narrated about four years after they take place, and from Anna’s changing perceptions it is clear that she has grown stronger and wiser.

Brian Dunlap

Brian Dunlap, Anna’s former husband. He is fairly content in a tepid relationship with Anna during their marriage. It is Anna who suggests a separation when Brian’s law firm transfers him to Washington, D.C. He is a decent man who plays by the rules, which is to his advantage later in the novel, when he sues for custody of Molly. Although he has an affair with another woman while his marriage with Anna is dissolving, society is more tolerant of his indiscretions than of Anna’s.

Molly Dunlap

Molly Dunlap, Anna and Brian’s three-year-old daughter. She is a bright, once-happy child who struggles to make sense of her parents’ divorce and the profound consequences it has on her life. Anna describes her daughter in exquisite and loving detail, using every sense to convey the physical reality of a little girl. Molly is one of the...

(The entire section is 470 words.)