In the story, Martha is an impoverished farmer's wife. She is still young, but a harsh life has destroyed her youthful looks. The text tells us that her eyes are "hollowed, the lips punched dry, and colorless." Martha has the face of a woman who has "aged without maturing."
She loves her husband, Paul, but is frustrated with his stubborn faith in the land. During their quarrels, she begs him to consider going back to town to live. Her pleadings fall on deaf ears, and she begins to doubt that Paul will ever leave the land he loves. The text tells us that Martha was a schoolteacher before she married and that she had nourished great hopes for her marriage. However, the hard times have destroyed her faith in life and dispelled all her romantic notions about the land.
As time progresses, Martha discovers that she has begun to harbor contempt for her husband. When she quarrels with him, her anger is mingled with "a kind of disdain, an attitude almost of condescension, as if she no longer looked upon the farmers as her equals." Martha's anguish is exacerbated by the fact that she cannot seek solace in her husband's arms; he himself is wrestling with his own challenges and stands aloof from her struggles.
Essentially, Martha feels alienated from Paul. Even though she wants to "feel his arms supporting her, to cry a little just that he might soothe her," she knows that he has little in terms of comfort to offer her. In the end, driven to desperation, Martha tries to run away with the baby. They are caught in a sandstorm, however, and the baby dies. The death of the baby is devastating, and by the end of the story, it is clear that Martha has lost her sanity.