We Were the Mulvaneys focuses almost exclusively on the six characters who make up the nuclear Mulvaney family. Michael, Sr., one of nine children, quarrels with the family of his childhood as a way of precipitating their abandonment of him. His background propels him into a very different kind of adult world, one where he is astonished by love and by fatherhood. Until Marianne's rape, he had been a good father, hard-working, proud, committed to his wife and children. But he is unable to break the cycle of family dysfunction when Marianne's rape estranges him from the world he believed would protect his family emotionally just as the roofs he builds protect them physically. Oates does, however, enable the two older sons to break the cycle of dysfunction that so often engulfs generations of families by having them quarrel with their father as a way of finding a healthier autonomy than Michael found when he was disowned by his father.
One of the perplexing aspects about We Were the Mulvaneys is why Corinne chooses her husband over her daughter. A patriarchal, fundamentalist faith may explain some of this, but Corinne has not been a victim of patriarchy. Rather, she has been an independent woman within her marriage and has nurtured this independence in her children. In fact, she is so concerned with not intruding on their privacy that she at times does not even see them, so much so that it is days before she discovers Marianne's rape. She is a...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
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Abelove is the charismatic leader of the Green Isle Co-op. His background is a mystery: no one even knows his true first name, which is described as "something odd and awkward like 'Charlesworth.'" He is a peaceful man who talks about helping the poor, extolling Christian principles while at the same time worrying about expanding the financial range of the co-op. All of the women at the co-op, including Marianne, are secretly in love with Abelove.
Patrick is suspicious of Abelove. Corinne banters with him throughout a meal, but she turns abruptly against Abelove when he comments on Marianne's personality.
After Marianne has risen in rank to become his valuable assistant, and rumors have spread through the co-op that she might be involved with Hewie Miner, Abelove confesses to Marianne that he is in love with her and wants to marry her. Though it is her desire, she sneaks away that night, unable to cope with such potential happiness.
Birk, once one of Abelove's students at Kilburn College, serves as assistant director at the Green Isle Co-Op when Marianne is there. He disappears without a trace one day, leaving behind all of his belongings.
See Marianne Mulvaney
Della Rae Duncan
A mentally challenged girl from the poor area of Mt. Ephraim, Della Rae is molested by a group of boys from the football team....
(The entire section is 2550 words.)