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Mansfield makes Bertha and her responses the focus of her story; the two important people in Bertha's life, Pearl Fulton and Harry, are scarcely characterized. Pearl is not much more than a presence: "she seldom did look at people directly," and a "strange half smile came and went upon her lips as though she lived by listening rather than seeing." Harry is a go-getter, full of energy and life. Bertha thinks of him as her pal through most of the story; only at the very end is she aware of a different side to his nature after she observes him turn Pearl "violently to him" and then hears, moments later, the sound of his voice speaking to herself "extravagantly cool and collected."

In addition to the members of this triangle, there are other guests at Bertha's dinner party, people from the arts who are superficially lively and witty but shallow. It is no accident that Eddie Warren's departing words to Bertha are about the "dreadfully eternal" qualities of tomato soup as a poetic image. These characters help define the values of Bertha and Harry's world where style and appearance have become ends in themselves. Earlier in the story, Bertha had carefully arranged a bowl of fruit to bring out the color in her carpet, and she rearranged the pillows in the drawing room which made the room "come alive" even without the presence of people.


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Pearl Fulton
Pearl Fulton is Bertha’s enigmatic new friend in the story. With her indirect way of looking at people and her half-smile, she appears distant and mysterious. Although Bertha acknowledges that she and Pearl have not had a really intimate conversation, on the night of the dinner party Bertha senses an intimate attachment between them. This feeling of attachment is confirmed when Bertha discovers that Pearl is having an affair with her husband, Harry.

Mrs. Knight
Mrs. Knight and her husband are guests at Bertha’s dinner party. Though she is ‘‘awfully keen on interior decoration,’’ Mrs. Knight dresses herself in wild clothing and resembles a giant banana peel.

Norman Knight
Norman Knight is about to open a theater that will show thoroughly modern plays.

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Eddie Warren
Eddie Warren is an effeminate playwright. He is described as always being ‘‘in a state of acute distress’’ and over the course of the evening complains about his taxi ride to the party.

Bertha Young
Bertha, a young housewife, is the main character in the story. Despite the fact that the story is told from her perspective, readers learn few concrete details about her. She appears to enjoy a fairly leisurely life, as she and her husband are financially comfortable. However, though she claims she and her husband are ‘‘pals,’’ her home life would seem not as ideal as she views it; her marriage lacks passion, and the nanny clearly keeps her at a distance from her young daughter.

Bertha’s most notable characteristic is her inexplicable state of happiness. As the story opens, she is pleased with all life offers her. During her dinner party, she seems to find joy in almost everything she sees: the lovely pear tree in the garden, which seems to represent both herself and Pearl Fulton; her smart and cosmopolitan friends; the bond she is forging with Pearl. She even sexually desires her husband for the first time in her life and looks forward to spending the rest of the evening alone with him. By the end of the story, however, this world in which Bertha finds such pleasure is shattered when she discovers that her husband is having an affair with Pearl.

Harry Young
Harry is Bertha’s husband. He provides a good income for his family, enjoys good food, and has a zest for life. However, his most notable characteristic is his duplicitous nature: while he declares to Bertha that he finds Pearl Fulton dull, he is secretly engaged in a love affair with her. In fact, during the dinner party, he pretends to dislike Pearl. Yet he risks exposure of the affair when he embraces Pearl in the hallway while his wife is in the next room.

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Critical Essays