Last Updated on February 18, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1005
Albert Horton Foote, Jr.
Albert Horton Foote, Jr. is the narrator, protagonist, and author of Farewell. During his childhood in Wharton he was referred to as “Little Horton” to distinguish him from his father. Foote tells the story of his family and town through the objective eye of a journalist who neutrally reports on events. But periodically his fierce sense of justice breaks through that tone when he discusses race relations, particularly his disgust with the doctor who swindled African-American farmers, his discomfort with his family’s legacy of slaveholding, and his uneasiness with being called “Mr. Horton” by Stant, an African-American man who worked for his father. In his youth, Little Horton was sensitive and often moved by movies, songs, and poetry. He was loyal to his family, a fact made obvious when he would not bear to hear his cherished grandmother criticized for how she raised her sons. He often discussed his dreams of becoming an actor, and he proved his work ethic during his long shifts working at his father’s store.
Albert Horton Foote, Sr. (Big Horton)
Big Horton, as he became known after the birth of his son named for him, was the embodiment of the hardworking man who unselfishly provides for his family. In this way, Big Horton differed from his indolent brothers-in-law. His business provided a modest living and led him to live frugally. He did not spoil his children, but he provided tuition for Little Horton’s acting school at great personal sacrifice. He also stood in juxtaposition to the traditional racism of the town, having lived with an African-American couple in his youth. For this reason, too, he was disgusted by the Ku Klux Klan. The book is peppered with scenes of tender conversations between Big Horton and his wife that illustrate his devotion to his family.
Harriet Foote (Hallie)
Known all her life as Hallie, Foote’s mother, Harriet, was a gentle maternal presence in the lives of her sons. She took the effort to travel all the way to Houston to see Little Horton in a play while he studied acting there, and the next day she sacrificed the rest of her holiday to return home and tend to her middle son, who had broken his collarbone. She was happily married for nearly sixty years, despite having given up the life of privilege she was born into to marry a thrifty shopkeeper who struggled to make ends meet. Much of the history of Wharton we learn from Hallie in the conversations she has with her husband and with Foote.
Mary Phelps Brooks
The young Foote referred to his maternal grandmother, Mary Phelps Brooks, as Baboo, but she was known in town as Daisy. She was an endless well of nurturance, arguably to a fault. Foote remembers days spent at her house, whose backyard adjoined that of Foote’s home, and the sense of safety and security she gave him. She was an abundant provider, cooking meals for her children and grandchildren, offering many choices of entrees to cater to the tastes of her sons. As the oldest of her living siblings, she looked after all of her brothers, sisters, cousins, children, and grandchildren. She accompanied Foote to Houston while he studied there and paid for his room and board. But her generosity was destructive in the case of her sons. Her continuous handouts crippled their ambition, and although she never openly admitted it, Foote suspects that she knew this fact in her heart.
Little Horton’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Brooks, was a sharp businessman. Within a few years of his settling in Wharton he bought the store he worked in as a clerk. He next bought, at low prices, abandoned plantations that he subdivided and leased out at a profit. He was admired and loved by the town, so much so that when he died the entire town went into mourning and even spoke of naming a street after him or building a monument, neither of which happened. In a twist of fate, it was his prosperity that provided the means to turn his sons into indolent and alcoholic failures.
Thomas Harry Brooks (Brother)
The eldest of Little Horton’s three maternal uncles, Brother, as he was called, served as a kind of foil for Big Horton’s industry and responsibility. He married his high school sweetheart after she was widowed in her first marriage. He was known around town for his drinking and gambling. His mother tried to help him learn responsibility after his son was born by hiring him to manage one of their family’s farms, but he mortgaged it to pay his debts. He left town to find work and died on a farm in Arizona, far from his family.
John Brooks (Speed)
Named for his mother’s father and known as Speed, John Brooks is another of Foote’s dissolute uncles. Speed got into serious trouble with the law when a friend he was out with killed another boy over a girl in a drunken brawl. This scare did not inspire him to stop drinking, so his mother attempted to help him by setting him up with a cleaning and pressing business. After three years, he walked away from it. Speed never had his own family and lived off his mother for the rest of his life.
William Smith Brooks (Billy)
William Smith Brooks is another of Foote’s uncles on his mother’s side. Billy, as he was called, was named for his father’s younger brother, who was a brilliant attorney. His name caused everyone around him to expect him to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. In another example of Daisy’s coddling her sons into ruin, she paid for him to go to law school and set him up with an office and resources when he graduated. After two days of passively and unsuccessfully waiting for clients, he left his practice, never to return. Like his brothers, he survived thanks to his mother’s handouts.