The name Barbara Covett is revealing because Barbara covets Sheba and the upper-class lifestyle Sheba represents. Barbara is an unreliable narrator; her perceptions are inaccurate and reflect her own need to judge others and to control everyone around her. Additionally, Barbara has a savior complex and needs to be in rescuing roles. From the beginning of the novel, she wriggles her way into Sheba’s life by “helping” her control her students. She imagines a relationship with Sheba long before it ever materializes. Eventually, Barbara forces Sheba into a situation where Sheba is her dependent. Barbara's manipulative nature seems to be driven by extreme loneliness. Although Barbara is obsessed with having Sheba, she never considers Sheba’s feelings. Barbara just wants to possess her.
Sheba (Bathsheba) Hart
Sheba is an upper-class housewife who teaches pottery. Tall, with a dancer’s body and long, wild hair, she wears whispy skirts and sheer blouses, and she seems bohemian and artistic. Barbara, who essentially speaks for Sheba throughout the novel, sees her as fragile emotionally but artistic and intelligent. Sheba has an affair with a fifteen-year-old student but does not see it as wrong or harmful to anyone. In the end, Sheba looses everything because of the affair, and though she believes Barbara is a loyal friend, Barbara betrays her.
Steven is a student at St. George’s who has an affair with Sheba, his teacher. Steven is from a working-class family. He seems to be a typical teenaged boy with a crush on his teacher. According to Barbara, he has down-turned eyes that suggest a tragic mask. Steven has a party with other teens and kisses a girl there, which suggests that he is sexually active with multiple partners, and therefore does not feel emotionally involved with Sheba. Steven is not able to navigate the kind of adult relationship that Sheba wants from him. By the end of the novel, he is bored with her.
Richard is Sheba’s older husband and a professor. He is from the upper class and is immersed in his work. Barbara says he is pompous and condescending. He talks down to Sheba, but she does not seem to mind. Their relationship is more like that of a father and child.
Brian Bangs is the math teacher at St. George’s School. He is very nervous and has a high-pitched voice. His conversations always seem to be rehearsed. Barbara tells Bangs that all the staff know he has a crush on Sheba and that they laugh about it behind his back.
Sandy Pabblem is the headmaster at St. George’s School. He does not like Barbara because she was once critical of the school in a manuscript she was asked to write. Pabblem is a bully who likes to humiliate staff whenever he gets the chance. His greatest concern is that bad publicity might get out during his term as headmaster.