Bad Characters Summary
by Jean Stafford

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Bad Characters Summary

"Bad Characters" was published in the December 4, 1954 in the New Yorker. It is one of 10 short stories written by Jean Stafford. The story follows of Emily Vanderbilt while she is the accomplice to Lottie Jump. Emily Vanderpool is an 11-year-old whose bad character isolates her from her peers. She has fits of isolation and aims to be alone. During these times, she is unable to keep her insults to herself. Instead, she directs them to whoever happens to be with her at the moment. The only companion she is able to continually seek comfort in is her cat, Muff. Muff is similar in disposition to Emily. One day, in Emiy's solitude, she encounters Lottie trying to steal a chocolate cake from the Vanderpool kitchen. Lottie is able to talk her way around her real reasons for visiting the Vanderpool house and persuades Emily into a friendship. She becomes fascinated with Lottie, who she comes to find only has a penchant for stealing. In order to seal the friendship deal, Lottie convinces Emily to steal money for trolley fares into the city so that they can lift from a local dime store. In another urge to be left alone during their shoplifting spree, Emily devises a plan to have Lottie caught in the act of theft. The tables turn when Lottie pretends to be handicapped and accuses Emily of committing the act. Emily is seen to have victimized Lottie and sent to her father's custody at the police station. She faces reprimands from her mother and the Judge Bay, a friend of her father. At the end of the story, Emily learns to cope with her urges for solitude and instead of insulting her friends, resorts to more adult like excuses. She is thereafter able to maintain more than one friendship.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The bad characters in this fictional autobiography are two young girls: Emily Vanderpool, the protagonist and narrator, and Lottie Jump, an eleven-year-old vagabond from the lower-class section of town. A brash, impudent, yet privileged girl, Emily has not yet learned to maintain friendships. Because she believes that she needs frequent solitude, she insults her friends until she loses their friendship. Always Emily repents of these impetuous actions, but always too late; she indeed alienates all of her friends. Even her brother and sisters are targets of Emily’s vituperation.

Emily has one friend—her cat, Muff. Muff dislikes all humans except Emily, mirrors Emily’s need for self-inflicted privacy, and, by extension, mirrors Emily herself. Because Muff and Emily are mirror images, Stella, her sister, frequently refers to Emily as “Kitty” whereas Jack, her brother, calls Emily “Polecat.”

As the Christmas holidays approach, Emily, without a friend, sits home alone with Muff. When she investigates a sound coming from the kitchen, she quickly discovers a young girl stealing a piece of cake. Tall, sickly looking, ragged, and dirty, this girl, Lottie Jump, is the antithesis of Emily. Lottie frequently lies, steals, has ragged teeth, and comes from a lower-class family. Lottie’s mother is a short-order cook in a dirty café; her father has tuberculosis; her brother has received no education. By contrast, Emily has a good home, wears nice clothes, attends a good school, attends church regularly, and has educated, healthy parents. However, during the course of one afternoon’s conversation, the spirited Lottie, who explains that she appeared in Emily’s kitchen not to steal but to visit Emily, manages to convince the vulnerable Emily to become her friend. Incredible as the story may appear, Emily acquiesces.

That afternoon, the girls search through Emily’s mother’s bureau drawers. Emily, however, fails to notice Lottie stealing Mrs. Vanderpool’s perfume flask. Emily’s many advantages make Emily feel guilty, which is why, perhaps, she succumbs so easily to Lottie’s proposition. To remain friends, Lottie threatens, Emily must not only join in a shoplifting spree at the local dime store but also bring along money for the trolley fare. Reluctantly,...

(The entire section is 1,153 words.)