Last Updated on October 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580
Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia Burnell
When a family friend sends the Burnell girls—Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia—a dollhouse, they are thrilled by its intricate details and tiny accessories. The sisters are proud and seek admiration, and as a result, they cannot wait to boast about their gift at school. Because she is the eldest sister, Isabel asserts her superiority over Lottie and Kezia and insists that she will be the first to tell their classmates about the house and issue an invitation.
Kezia is different from her sisters. Though she is also eager to tell the other girls about the dollhouse, she is the only character who believes the Kelvey girls should be allowed to see it too. At the end, she defies her parents’ orders and takes the Kelveys into the courtyard to see the dollhouse, after which she is scolded harshly by her aunt.
Lil and Else Kelvey
Lil and Else Kelvey are the daughters of a local washerwoman and a man who has long since disappeared; the other characters presume that he is in jail. The girls often seem to understand each other without speaking. Else constantly holds on to the edge of her older sister’s skirt, rarely speaks, and is never seen smiling; the narrator describes her as “a tiny wishbone of a child, with cropped hair and enormous solemn eyes—a little white owl” in a dress like a nightgown. Lil, meanwhile, is “a stout, plain child, with big freckles,” who wears a grown-up lady’s hat.
The Kelvey girls are looked down upon by everyone else in town, including the other children and even their teacher. The other girls have been instructed by their wealthy parents not to associate with the Kelveys. The Kelveys have no expectation, therefore, that they will be allowed to see the dollhouse, and they are shocked when Kezia invites them. Despite the cruelty of their peers, the Kelvey sisters do not respond with hatred; when asked if she will grow up to be a servant, Lil only smiles, as if the question doesn’t bother her. At the end, even after Aunt Beryl yells at them, the girls are content to have had even a glimpse of the magnificent dollhouse.
The Other Schoolgirls
The Burnell girls have many friends at school; in fact, it appears that all of the other girls want to be friends with them. Once Isabel informs them that she will be selecting two girls at a time to come over to her house to see the dollhouse, the girls attempt to earn her attention (and an invitation) by sharing secrets with her and claiming her as their friend. They, like Isabel and Lottie Burnell, look down upon the Kelveys and exclude them. Lena Logan, one of the first girls invited to see the dollhouse, taunts Lil Kelvey, asking her if she will grow up to be a servant and openly announcing that her father is in jail.
Beryl is the Burnell sisters’ aunt. At the end of the story, she is shocked and outraged to catch Kezia showing the dollhouse to the Kelvey girls, whom she immediately sends running. She then harshly scolds Kezia. It is implied that Aunt Beryl is involved with a man called Willie Brent, who sent her a letter earlier that day demanding that she meet him. She has been anxious about the letter, but after scaring off the Kelveys and scolding Kezia, she feels much better.