Do with Me What You Will

by Joyce Carol Oates
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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

Elena Ross Howe

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Elena Ross Howe, the protagonist. Abused as a child by a neglectful father and an uncaring mother, Elena becomes passive, pliant, and malleable to the wills of others. She is an undefined, shadowy figure without her own identity until, at the end of the novel, she is strengthened by redemptive love. Elena is beautiful, blond, and statuesque, but she uses her beauty to mask the nothingness behind it. Elena occasionally narrates the novel as fragments of her thoughts or projected conversations slip into the story.

Jack Morrissey

Jack Morrissey, Elena’s lover. Jack is an attorney who is more intrigued by the power and the media attention he can garner from the profession of law than he is in serving justice. Although married to Rachel, he becomes enamored of Elena, maintains a long-term affair with her, and serves as the vehicle for her emancipation.

Marvin Howe

Marvin Howe, Elena’s husband. A high-powered attorney with implied underworld connections, Marvin is the catalyst for much of the action in the story. When Jack is a child, Marvin defends his father against a murder charge and initiates Jack’s interest in the law. He also “rescues” Elena from her materialistic mother, but in the process he imprisons her. He is interested in acquisition and ownership of things and people.

Ardis Howe/Marya Sharp

Ardis Howe/Marya Sharp, Elena’s mother. Ardis is self-serving, controlling, vain, and manipulative. She is a shape-shifter, changing her name and her physical appearance several times throughout the novel. Once she has placed Elena into Marvin Howe’s wealthy, successful hands, she ignores her daughter and pretends she does not exist.

Leo Ross

Leo Ross, Elena’s father. A peripheral figure, Leo is featured at the outset of the story when, crushed by his divorce from Ardis, he kidnaps Elena and forces her to go across country with him in the name of “love.” During their flight, he forces Elena to hide out, dye her hair black, and go without food, traumatizing the child in the process. Leo disappears until the end of the novel, when he is shown homeless, embittered, and still potentially dangerous.

Meredith (Mered) Dawe

Meredith (Mered) Dawe, Elena’s spiritual guide. A lecturer on passive resistance and universal love, Mered becomes a spiritual guide for Elena, giving her impetus to define herself and break free. He is also a pivotal figure for Jack, indirectly showing him the imperfections of the law.

Rachel Morrissey

Rachel Morrissey, Jack’s wife. A political and human rights activist, Rachel is the only character in the work who is purely unselfish; consequently, she is rejected and abandoned by her husband.

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Critical Essays