There are quite a few characters in this book that come and go. I have attached a link of most of them, but I will highlight the main characters here.
The narrator and protagonist, or main character, is Hagar Shipley. Hagar is 90 years old, and very frail. Her dependence on others frustrates her, and her past haunts her. She lives with her son Marvin and her daughter in law Doris. Marvin wants to put her in a nursing home, but she does not want to leave her house.
Throughout the novel, Hagar flashes back to the past. She was married to a man named Bram, who did not make her happy. They had another son, John, who lived with Hagar as an adult because times were tough, but they did not get along.
To avoid the nursing home, Hagar leaves and makes her way to an abandoned cannery where she further reminisces. There she meets Murray Lees, who is also visiting to find some peace and quiet, and they commiserate. Hagar gets sick and Murray goes to get her son.
In the hospital, Hagar meets a young girl named Sandra who is there to get her appendix out. They enjoy each other’s company and Hagar calms her fears, but she is still very ill.
One of the themes in the book is the conflict and prejudice that exists between the social classes. This is highlighted by a few of the minor characters. For example, John's girlfriend Arlene is not accepted by Hagar because she believes Arlene to be beneath his social class. This fight causes the biggest rift between Hagar and her son, and John and Arlene will die in a car accident before Hagar can ever make amends.
Most of Hagar's pride and prejudice come from her father, Jason Currie. A Scottish immigrant, Jason believes in building material wealth. Although he is the descendant of a wealthy businessman, his father lost all of his money, leaving Jason a "self-made" man. He judges people as being lazy who do not have the same material status. He uses money to punish people and to glorify himself, both withholding money from his family and donating money publicly to garner himself honors.
Marvin, Hagar's son, is the character that allows Hagar to grow and change. She treats him badly throughout most of her life, claiming that he does not have the spark that she does. A quiet, hard-worker, Hagar finds him to be boring and uninspired. The final scene between them in the nursing home shows how Hagar has grown. She thanks him for how kind he always been to her, showing that she now appreciates humanity more than material wealth and showmanship.