The characters of the story are not unusual, but they are in no sense simple. They all see themselves and one another in highly individualized ways colored by faulty memories and reluctance to face certain realities.
Pearl Tull, as the central figure, has the most facets, partly because her long life has enabled her character to develop most fully, and the years have given her a measure of wisdom. She has a considerable amount of insight, calling herself “an old maid at heart,” but the blindness that afflicts her in the end and her proud refusal to acknowledge it are both metaphors of her personality. Competent and strong-willed, she is also hot-tempered and compulsive. She cares deeply for her children but is unable to express her love except in what she does for them. She is highly critical, “an angry sort of mother,” and fears weakness in herself more than anything else.
Cody, the firstborn, suffers most from his father’s abandonment, his mother’s cruel outbursts, and what he regards as her preference for Ezra. Obsessively jealous, he is a mischievous and contrary child, constantly playing malicious tricks on Ezra in a one-sided rivalry that culminates in his marriage to the only woman Ezra ever loved. Successful in his profession, he is nevertheless restless and unsatisfied, and he fails to build the kind of relationship with his son, Luke, that he so badly missed having with his own father.
Ezra is a dreamy,...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Pearl Cody Tull
Pearl Cody Tull, who is eighty-six years old, small, fair-haired, gray-eyed, and indomitable. Her insight into herself and her relationships with her long-absent husband and her three children sharpens and becomes focused as her eyesight fades to blindness. Never able to nurture close relationships, Pearl instead allowed her grim determination and high expectations to drive her husband away; as a single mother, her occasional murderous rages almost obscured her powerful love of and concern for her children. Despite an abiding sense of grievance, Pearl always longs to have the children’s confidence and trust, but, especially as adults, they remain at arm’s length. Their feelings for her range from near hatred through tolerance to baffled love. Pearl’s only oblique acknowledgment of her approaching death is her recognition of her own shortcomings. Perception comes as she lies dying, listening for clues from her own youthful diaries read aloud by Ezra, her mind drifting through the events of her life.
Beck Tull, a salesman, Pearl’s husband and the father of their three children. The young Beck, black-haired, boldly blue-eyed, and flashily handsome, rescues Pearl from spinsterhood in a whirlwind courtship and marriage. In 1944, disappointed in his career and overwhelmed by the burden of Pearl’s unspoken but fierce disappointment in him, he abandons the family, afterward maintaining a link with Pearl through the increasingly rare notes and checks he sends. Because Pearl never openly acknowledges his desertion, Beck hovers on the edge of the family’s consciousness for thirty-five years until he appears (at Ezra’s invitation) at Pearl’s funeral. Now elderly, and still dapper if slightly sleazy, Beck is ready for reconciliation and recognition as the Tull patriarch, but his commitment lasts only through the day of the funeral, to the end of the one Tull family dinner ever to lurch to completion at the Homesick Restaurant.
Cody Tull, Pearl’s eldest child, who is...
(The entire section is 854 words.)