The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ann is a skillful storyteller. Her sensitivity to minute details and sensations is the result of a life spent watching out for Adele’s volatile moods and actions. Hers is the literary voice of the novel, even though it is her mother who claims to be writing a book. Ann has a lyrical descriptive style and represents her emotions in intriguing metaphors. Her imagination has grown powerful because it is her method of escape from and defense against Adele.

Ann portrays herself as a victim of Adele’s insanity. Traumatic events such as being abandoned along the roadside and having her mother threaten suicide have conditioned Ann to fear the very thing that would relieve her—separating from Adele. This love/hate relationship twists the young Ann. She exhibits signs of sexual confusion, manipulating other children into posing for nude photographs, and of moral uncertainty, growing accustomed to dishonesty, and even theft, as a survival mechanism. Ann does survive, however, and after escaping to college in the East, she begins to straighten herself out and experience personal fulfillment. She also develops an ability to appreciate her mother’s unique and impressive traits and to forgive the mistreatment she suffered as a child.

Adele is capable of both compassion and cruelty. She is an unpredictable force that can suddenly change the lives of those around her. Her energy drives the novel. Although in her chaotic younger years Adele causes Ann...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ann August

Ann August, the narrator of four sections. Ann, the daughter of Adele August, recalls moments from her youth, especially the tensions in her relationship with her mother over a period of several years.

Adele August

Adele August, the narrator of the last chapter. Mother to Ann, daughter to Lillian, and sister to Carol, Adele possesses lofty ambitions. She foists those desires on Ann, dragging her across America in search of a glamorous identity for both of them in Hollywood. Adele rarely sees beyond surface impressions and allows her myopic view to dominate and control her life and her daughter’s.


Carol, the narrator of three sections, all of which are addressed to Ann. Sister to Adele, wife to Jimmy, and mother to Benny (who died in his late teens) and Hal, Carol is eleven years older than Adele. She worked as a teletype operator for the WACs during World War II, and she secretly married a French Jew who attempted to kill Adolf Hitler. Because he died on the train returning with Carol to Wisconsin, Carol did not tell her family that she had a husband before Jimmy. She finally tells Ann.


Lillian, the narrator of one chapter, which is addressed to Ann. Lillian, Adele and Carol’s mother, describes her unplanned pregnancy with Carol, her relationships with both young women, and her experiences with sexual relations, which she ultimately finds repugnant.