Elizabeth Hunter is a complex, vividly portrayed character. Patrick White presents her from various perspectives-her own and those of her employees and children. She woos everyone with her wit and beauty, yet she also frequently hurts others. Callous and cruel but also capable of being generous and brutally honest about herself-she readily admits to all of her foibles-Elizabeth embodies the whole range of virtues and flaws to which humankind is subject. Furthermore, she possesses understanding and great powers of perception; whether turned toward herself or others, these attributes can be either helpful or discomfiting. Although she has experienced more than one person’s usual allotment in life, Elizabeth has not done so frivolously; she drains people and events to their dregs. Despite her many failings, Elizabeth remains a sympathetic character, while those whom she has perhaps most wronged-Dorothy and Basil-never inspire much sympathy. Both are shallow as well as flawed; their mother attains greatness because she risks so much in life, while they remain content with the superficial.
Elizabeth is a successful character probably because she is so well-rounded, so physically present. White focuses principally on the unpleasant details of her illness and impending death. Her once flawless body now tends to betray her: She wets the bed during Dorothy’s first visit to see her, Arnold overhears his sleeping client expel gas, the nurses are required to...
(The entire section is 478 words.)