Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495
Gram (Lil Bradley Krauss)
Gram Lil Bradley Krauss), the “queen of Persia” of the title. Having grown up learning to work hard (her mother having died when she was a teenager and her father having been killed in the oilfields of Texas seeking his fortune), she married Jacob Krauss and gave birth to seven children (two sons, stillborn), rearing five daughters (May, Grace, Elinor, Rachel, and Libby). Her marriage became a source of bitterness because Jacob, not acknowledging his desire for her, became an abusive alcoholic.
Grace, the second of Lil’s daughters, the one whom Gram counts on to work with her whenever she is on the farm. Grace earned a teaching degree and then married Neil against her mother’s wishes. Grace and her daughters, Anne and Katie, spend most of their time on Lil’s farm, not living with Neil. Putting her faith in her sister Elinor’s Christian Science beliefs, Grace struggles against her cancer for nearly two years, eventually dying in the big farmhouse.
Neil, Grace’s husband, a writer. Working as a salesman, he never earns enough money to buy a home without his mother-in-law’s help. He is the spirit of mischief with Anne and Katie and a constant antagonist to Lil, who blames him for Grace’s cancer coming back after surgery.
Elinor, the daughter who “gets away.” the family sacrificed to provide her with piano lessons. Elinor, fulfilling her mother’s expectation that she move away from the farm, works for an advertising agency in New York. Every return to the farm includes her giving clothes and jewelry to her nieces. Having become a Christian Scientist, she directs Grace’s recovery regimen as Grace battles breast cancer that surgery did not stop. She provides the link to a yearned-for miracle, maintained until the coffin lid is closed at Grace’s funeral.
Celia, one of the narrators. Her initiation to womanhood provides the framework for the opening section of the novel. Her sexuality results in boys gathering on the front porch like male dogs seeking a female in heat. Her cousins spy on her dates, awakening their own desires as well as reinforcing the new separation between them and Celia. Her marriage and move to Texas result in a suicide attempt, which sends her back to her family in Ohio for treatment and recovery.
Jacob Krauss, or Grandad, the farmer who courts Lil by bringing her family piano to her house. He appears incapable of expressing affection. He drank and battered Lil until her brother provided money that lifted the family out of poverty. His response to Lil’s good financial fortune was to withdraw further from the family. His rage against Lil’s selling some pastureland results in his driving an Amish man and his son off the road, wrecking their wagon and possibly injuring them. The young cousins were afraid when they were in the house alone with him.