The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The dominant characters, Kate and Baba, express two fundamentally different views of life. As Edna O’Brien has said, she set out to create a woman who was “my own and my country’s view of what an Irish woman should be and one who would undermine every piece of protocol and religion and hypocrisy that there was.” What might have been schematic in presentation becomes highly realistic because each character’s limitations are happily compensated for by the other. Alone, neither woman seems able to find a satisfactory relationship. Yet they are united in their attraction to men and in their willingness to make their contact with males the main purpose of their lives.

Baba’s brashness saves Kate, for a time, from wallowing in romanticism. To be a romantic is not necessarily to know how to love or how to please others. Baba, for all of her brutishness, has a knack for making contact, for thrusting Kate into a larger world that she might not otherwise experience. Yet Baba hardly has all the answers for Kate, since Baba’s crude conviviality prevents any deep appreciation of life. She cannot imagine the lives of others, cannot read Anna Karenina, and, therefore, is unable to make sense of her own experience.

Both characters are victims of patterns they are unable to break: Kate cannot resist doomed affairs with married men, and Baba turns every relationship into profit for herself. Baba connives for herself, while Kate contents...

(The entire section is 437 words.)