The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Marie, as the narrator of her own story, is unremittingly honest as she explores the memories of a bleak childhood and her struggle to persevere and forge a decent life for herself. The process she undergoes requires a critical eye and a frank appraisal: She is trying to become a whole person in a fragmented and destructive world. Marie finds explanations for her own behavior and that of others in the conditions of life which they experience. If people are wanting, it is an effect of circumstance and not a lack of human impulse.

The failure of Marie’s mother to rebel against the brutality of her husband is not a result of a weak will; rather, she has been rendered powerless to change her situation. In one rare instance, she refuses to let him control her and will not reveal how she voted; as a consequence, he leaves her. Any sense of autonomy that she might have derived from the coming of women’s suffrage is completely negated by the fact that, once her husband leaves, she is even less able than before to meet her family’s basic needs. Her triumph becomes a failure as it reveals her economic powerlessness.

Marie’s father, unlike his wife, continues to believe that he can take some control over his desperate situation. He lives in dreams and stories and persists in believing that success will come in the next mining camp or business venture. His descent into alcoholism and delusional thinking is a result of his inability to overcome the powerful...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Marie Rogers

Marie Rogers, the narrator and protagonist, the daughter of poor laborers who move through Missouri, Oklahoma, and Colorado in search of work. Although she is a survivor, childhood experiences warp her understanding of love, tenderness, and compassion. She escapes her economically oppressive world to become a secretary, magazine saleswoman, and teacher in the West, and, later, a socialist journalist and dedicated activist in the Indian nationalist movement in New York. She is driven by two unyielding beliefs: that work will give her money to use for education, which will ensure her economic independence, and that she can maintain her freedom by resisting the demands of family, sex, and marriage, the complexities of which she does not fully understand. She is passionately committed to struggling against all forms of injustice.

Elly Rogers

Elly Rogers, the mother of Marie and her four siblings. A beautiful young woman, subject to frequent brutality and erratic support from her husband, she works diligently but hopelessly at various menial jobs to maintain her children. She cares deeply for them and desires especially that they be educated, but both her dreams and her affections are crushed by the struggle for life’s essentials. She dies, in her late thirties, of malnutrition and related causes.

John Rogers

John Rogers, the husband of Elly and father of their children. Less practical and more imaginative and fun-loving than his wife, he rarely earns enough money working on farms and in mining camps to provide an adequate living for his family. To escape his responsibilities, he periodically deserts them, resorts to alcohol, defends himself with physical cruelty, and dreams of a better future.

Annie Rogers

Annie Rogers, Marie’s older sister. She acquires limited independence by earning her own money in a laundry. She marries Sam Walker at...

(The entire section is 801 words.)