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There is a father, a mother, the 17 year old daughter, and old grandmother, and a young traveler who shows up and makes himself at home with the family. There are other children as well. None are given names. It is told like a fable, so there are no names at all, just descriptions through actions and words.
The traveler begins by telling them of his ambition. He wants to make his mark in the world. This talk gets the individual family members talking about their secret wishes as well. The father wants to rank higher in life than he does. He wants more respect from others than he gets. The younger child of theirs wants to go "drink from the basin of the Flume" which is a dangerous spot out in the cold. The grandmother wants them to hold a mirror above her when she is dead and in her casket so that she may see herself and make sure all is well before they bury her.
However, the mother and daughter have odd feelings about all of this ambition being discussed. The 17 year old girl thinks it best to just sit by the warm fire and be comfortable and content. The mother doesn't want her husband to get too ambitious. She'd rather not lose him. These are the characters and what they represent.
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