Who are the characters in Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser? This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please write a separate paragraph of analysis for each key character you discuss.
Genevieve "Jenny" Gerhardt
Jenny is the main character of the novel. She's a beautiful young girl who wonders what it's like to be rich but lives in poverty with her hardworking parents and siblings. At the beginning of the novel, she takes a job at a high-class hotel with her mother. They do the cleaning. One day, Senator Brander takes notice of Jennie. She and her mother start doing his washing; he becomes closer to Jennie, provides for her family, and he promises to marry her. However, he dies and leaves her pregnant. Jennie and her mother move, and Jennie falls in love with another man, Lester Kane. Once again, they're socially incompatible. Jennie finds out that he could lose his inheritance for being with her, so she instructs him to leave her and marry the woman his family would prefer. He complies. After Jennie's daughter dies, she raises two orphans and lives without wealth or romantic love. She mourns Lester after he dies and wonders what she'll do next with her life.
Lester is the man Jennie truly loves. His father is a wholesale carriage builder who is well known; his family is socially affluent. In order to receive his inheritance, though, Lester has to leave Jennie. Part of him doesn't care about this; part of him misses the high-society life he had with his ex-girlfriend Letty. He gives in, marries Letty, and is happy—but not fully happy. Part of him always misses Jennie. He confesses on his deathbed that he should not have left her and that she is the only woman he ever truly loved.
George Sylvester Brander
Senator Brander (of Ohio) is a man who visits the hotel where Jennie and her mother work. Once he takes an interest in Jennie, he notices the plight of her family and decides to help them financially. He overpays for the washing they do for him, helps with their food and needs, and gives them money for a nice Christmas. He offers to marry Jennie, and she accepts. However, he falls ill and dies. He's Vesta's father.
Vesta is the daughter of Jennie and Senator Brander. Her parentage is something Jennie hides from Lester for a long time. She eventually dies of typhoid fever.
Letty is Lester's ex whom he and Jennie encounter in Europe. Her husband has died, and she is now a wealthy, socially accepted widow. She's talented, lovely, and artistic. She marries Lester, and they live in New York. She truly loves Lester and is happy with him. Her previous husband, Malcolm Gerald, made money in stocks and banking. She did not love him but felt that she had to marry someone. He was fond of her. They had one child together.
William and Mrs. Gerhardt
Jennie's parents, William and Mrs. Gerhardt, are hardworking people who keep running into misfortune. William is a glassblower who takes ill. He was born in Saxony, left for Paris to avoid conscription, and then moved to America. He's known to be honest and to have integrity. His wife is a fleshy woman with an open countenance. She's timid and nervous but not weak. She does her best to care for her family and stretch what they have. They have six children.
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