Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333
In a real sense the main character of the book is not an individual but a society, for Le Guin gives considerably more attention to her account of the Kesh culture than to any one character. There are, however, some major characters.
Stone Telling's account of her own life occupies about one-fifth of this long book. As a child, she lives among the Kesh, her mother's people; but she becomes restless and decides to join the Condor, among whom her father dwells. Her movement through life is reflected in her name changes. Stone Telling is her name as retrospective narrator. She marries (her husband is named Stone Listening) and has a daughter before finally returning home, when she becomes Woman Coming Home. Her account of her experiences is sensitive and moving.
As Stone Telling occupies the center in the book, the ambiguous character of Pandora occupies the circumference, for her interspersed remarks comment on all aspects of the narrative. The figure of Pandora is based on the mythic figure who was both the giver of all gifts and the mother of human woes. Pandora opened the box given to her by Prometheus, which released evils into the world but also held Hope at the bottom. Her role in Always Coming Home is not easy to specify. She may be seen as the alter ego of the author, a choral commentator, or a representative of the reader. She functions in all of these roles, and her incisive language makes her lively and appealing. Structurally and thematically she provides much needed irony. Frequently acerbic, she dismisses "smartass Utopians" and scorns those who think they know the answers as "boring, boring." She also adds a welcome touch of humor to the novel.
Most of the other characters offer vignettes of their personalities and their roles in the contrasting societies of the book. Both of Stone Telling's parents appear, as does her husband, Stone Listening, but all are described by her and not fully developed as individuals.
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