The reader senses a tinge of irony in Wilder’s frequent references to John Ashley as “late-maturing” and “unreflective.” Ashley is a man uninterested in the goals of most people who are considered mature: the making of money, advancement on the job, community acknowledgment. He happily allows Lansing the credit for his own work in the Coaltown mine. He would rather invent useful devices than patent or sell them. Even his family knows little or nothing of his charities, which typically take the form of deeds rather than of donations. He is “unreflective,” for example, in his failure to see the good in making his inventions and services available to the world at large. No abstract philanthropist, Ashley wishes only to help people within his ken. Nor do discriminations of rank, wealth, race, ethnicity, and religion mean anything to him. He restricts his thinking to the solution of practical problems and the assistance of neighbors.
Wilder draws Beata Ashley in the broadest of descriptive strokes. She is a colorless character completely devoted to her husband; as wife of a supposed murderer, she stands proud, silent, aloof. The children, especially Roger and Sophia, resemble their father in their energetic and resourceful approach to pressing problems, although as social outcasts with their usual source of income cut off, they are more cunning and calculating. Roger’s rise to eminence in Chicago journalism before he is out of his teens is less credible than Sophia’s labors to establish the boardinghouse that her mother would have been too proud to initiate and too distant to maintain alone. Both Lily and Constance, the youngest daughter, resemble...
(The entire section is 683 words.)