Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The narrator's father is thirty-four when the story begins and forty-five by the end of the story. He used to be a farmhand, and the narrator believes his father was intended by nature to be a "cheerful, kindly man." This perception is arguable, given that he must intentionally choose to have a positive outlook on the restaurant—his attempts to smile at customers are forced.
The narrator's father is also described as aging into someone "discouraged" and "silent." This seems more in tune with his actual nature, as he seems to have a long-lasting negative influence on his son's emotions, formulated in his early years. Despite being an introvert, the narrator's father seems to fancy himself as a burgeoning entertainer but learns (after his encounter with Joe Kane from Bidwell) that being a public entertainer is not his gift.
Despite his failures at the chicken farm, which he attempts to make thrive into something economically advantageous for ten years, he keeps a fascination with hens and eggs, especially the odd tricks that can be done with eggs and the "grotesques"—which are deformed baby chicks that do not live long. His fascination with eggs and deformed animals shows him to be a countryman at heart, as well as being gimmicky and a bit morbid in taste.
The narrator's mother is a school teacher when the story begins. She is described as being a reader and having a long nose. She seems to have a strong influence over the narrator's father, putting notions of success in his head. For instance, the narrator attributes his father losing his savings on fake chicken disease cures to his mother finding advertisements in the paper and suggesting them.
It was also her idea to start the restaurant across from the railroad station in Pickleville. She has no ambition for herself but desires for her husband and son to be successful. Not only does she encourage her husband toward business ventures, but she also schemes to get her son into a good "town school," which is part of her motivation for wanting to open the restaurant in Pickleville.
Although she is unfairly blamed for many of the failures for simply prompting the attempts—which one can infer originated in the mind of the narrator's father instead of in the boy's own young mind—she is also shown to be the strong one in the marriage. Just as she holds all the items on the cart together, keeping them from falling as they move, she also "keeps it together" when every disheartening failure occurs, remaining a kind of emotional rock that the narrator's father can go to when he is distraught.
The narrator is a disillusioned man and has been cynical since boyhood. He attributes his disillusion to growing up on a farm, but that is only because he drew parallels between the futile lives of hens and his own father's failed attempts at success. The observations he makes on the chicken farm, and the philosophical ideas he draws from them, show him to be a deep-thinker and an observer by nature, like his dad.
Like his mother, he is also a reader and imaginative. For instance, he imagines the tufts of hair around his father's ears are forests as he is falling asleep. The narrator also has a great deal of empathy for his father, which is shown in how he blames his mother for his father's failures and also in how he cries for his father without knowing what has made him sad near the end of the story.
The narrator seems to...
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be so used to feeling what his father feels (being too concerned and invested in his father), that he feels guilty when he is happy:
In the evening I walked home from school along Turner's Pike and remembered the children I had seen playing in the town school yard. A troop of little girls had gone hopping about and singing. I tried that. Down along the frozen road I went hopping solemnly on one leg. "Hippity Hop To The Barber Shop," I sang shrilly. Then I stopped and looked doubtfully about. I was afraid of being seen in my gay mood. It must have seemed to me that I was doing a thing that should not be done by one who, like myself, had been raised on a chicken farm where death was a daily visitor.
The narrator is not as happy or as carefree as other children are, as the excerpt above shows; while he blames his early pessimism on chickens and the troubles associated with caring for them, a deep reading of the text shows him to be the son of a morose father who has a heavy influence over his demeanor, emotions, and outlook on life.
Joe is a young visitor who is meeting his father in Pickleville. He stops in the narrator’s family’s restaurant for a cup of coffee one evening and bears witness to the narrator’s father’s attempt to entertain him. He is vaguely interested but ultimately unimpressed. When the narrator’s father breaks the egg he is trying to fit into a bottle, Joe laughs. This embarrassment causes the father to throw an egg at Joe’s head when he leaves.