A Mother and Two Daughters Characters

Gail Godwin

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Depending upon whether one regards attitudes or behavior as more telling, one could call Nell Strickland an outsider playing the role of insider or an insider who prefers to think of herself as an outsider. She has lived in Mountain City ever since she was fourteen, she has gone to the book club meetings presided over by the pretentious Theodora, and she has been for forty years the respected, popular wife of a respected, popular Mountain City lawyer. Yet, even if Nell goes through the motions of conventional propriety, she views those rituals and the class consciousness that dictates them with a somewhat satiric eye.

Insofar as Nell’s (usually accurate) satiric vision is a defense against rejection and pain, it is offset by her compassion and her vital interest, as a former nurse and as a mother, in helping people to live well and die comfortably. Although, after Leonard’s death, retreat from life and from people is a temptation for Nell, the needs of others cause her to become more fully engaged in life than ever. It is Nell who mobilizes the women of the book club when Wickie Lee goes into labor during a meeting; Nell who eases the last days of her old school friend Merle Chapin; Nell who finds happiness and even passion married to Merle’s widower, Marcus.

If, out of deference to Leonard, Nell has largely suppressed her skeptical, defiant side, Cate is the rebel Nell has never allowed herself to be: a twice-divorced, 1960’s-style liberal, who in 1970 found herself briefly in jail for leading her students from a New York girls’ school in a demonstration at the Lincoln Tunnel to protest the invasion of Cambodia. It should be noted that, in this story of family relationships and correspondences, Cate’s activism results not only from the critical perspective she has inherited from Nell but also from the idealism she has absorbed from Leonard. She cannot see a wrong without wanting to right it and has done the sorts of...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

A Mother and Two Daughters Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Nell Purvis Strickland

Nell Purvis Strickland, a sixty-three-year-old inhabitant of Mountain City, North Carolina. Nell had been trained as a nurse and had practiced but then had married Leonard Strickland, an attorney. They had two daughters, Cate and Lydia. Nell is a widow with many friends among the city’s best citizens. She is an intelligent, compassionate woman whose main interests are her family, her home, and her book discussion group, composed of longtime friends. Nell worries about her two daughters, who are very little alike, have trouble getting along, and are both going through large changes in their lives. She has always deferred to her husband; after his death, she must find her own identity and a reason to live.

Leonard Strickland

Leonard Strickland, an attorney who dies early in the novel. Leonard is a quiet, courteous, gentle, and philosophical man. He has been a faithful, devoted husband to Nell and father to Cate and Lydia. An idealist, Leonard had thought seriously of going to fight in the Spanish Civil War but was talked out of it by his uncle, Osgood. Leonard is an orderly, neat man. He is a good, conservative financial planner and provider. Leonard has a lantern jaw, stooped shoulders, and thick glasses. He hates violence and any kind of scene and enjoys listening to classical music on radio earphones and reading his beloved philosophers, Montaigne, Cicero, and Emerson. He has always been the voice of reason, and his widow and daughters think of him often, reflecting on what his opinion of various situations would be.

Cate Strickland Patchett Galitsky

Cate Strickland Patchett Galitsky, a twice-divorced thirty-nine-year-old when the novel opens. She is a college teacher specializing in the works of D. H. Lawrence. She is now teaching at the financially troubled Melanchthon College in Davenport, Iowa. Cate is an assertive, independent, strong-willed person who often causes turbulence, sometimes in her own family. She keeps her chin up and walks with an authoritative, pelvis-first stride. She is something of a leftist and feminist and enjoys shocking people, especially complacent people, and taking dramatic actions. Her behavior can border on the rude. To protest the Cambodian invasion, she took the students of the New York City private girls’ school at which she was then teaching to the Lincoln Tunnel in taxicabs and there blocked traffic until she was arrested. Cate’s first husband, Lieutenant Pringle Patchett, was an Air Force pilot. Her second, Jake Galitsky, went mad. Cate is unconventional and skeptical about the nuclear family. Childless, she is reluctant to endanger her independence again by marriage, however tempting it is. She is an activist for causes in which she believes.

Lydia Strickland Mansfield

Lydia Strickland Mansfield, a thirty-six-year-old mother of two boys and the estranged wife of Max Mansfield. Lydia is now a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the lover of Stanley Edelman. Lydia is a highly organized woman, perhaps a little manipulative. She has in the past kept her emotions under strict control and her life compartmentalized. She is an attractive, health-conscious woman with lavender-blue eyes. Lydia believes that she is beginning life anew, with her education, her lover, and her budding career in television, but she is still a worrier,...

(The entire section is 1400 words.)

A Mother and Two Daughters Characters

All three main characters, a mother and two daughters, are nonconformists —most obviously, daughter Cate, who has some qualities of an...

(The entire section is 200 words.)