The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Stacey MacAindra thoroughly dominates the novel. Margaret Laurence uses her to examine the role of wife/mother in a modern family in which the mother feels both nourished and devoured by her children. Although Stacey performs all the routine duties associated with being a mother and knows that bringing up four children is a worthwhile occupation, she fears that she is spending her life in one unbroken series of trivialities. She wants something of her own. She wants to stand as herself and communicate with her husband, her children, and the world. It is not simply the crisis of turning forty that causes her to exclaim to God,I stand in relation to my life both as child and as parent, never quite finished with old battles, never able to arbitrate properly the new, able to look both ways, but whichever way I look, God, it looks pretty confusing to me.

This woman facing forty is a frightened little girl who senses that her inability to communicate with others cannot be all her fault. She is a prairie girl from Manawaka who left home at nineteen for the big city of Vancouver, certain that life there would be better than it was in the tomb-like silence in which she dwelled with her parents. Her life is indeed better than her parents’ lives, but better is not good enough. Stacey wants to express her true self to the people she loves. She is a responsible person and has no real intention of walking away from her obligations. She will survive if all survival...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Stacey Cameron MacAindra

Stacey Cameron MacAindra, a Vancouver housewife who grew up in the small prairie town of Manawaka, Manitoba. Thirty-nine years old, of medium height, and dark-haired, Stacey is beset by middle-age spread and is developing a penchant for gin and tonics. She and her husband, Mac, are the parents of four children: touchy, beautiful Katie, age fourteen; reserved, tense Ian, age ten; vulnerable, lonely Duncan, age seven; and happy Jen, a two-year-old who has yet to speak. Jen’s silence until the novel’s end mirrors the novel’s theme of problems of communication. Stacey faces encroaching middle age with doubt, with regret for her lost youth, looks, and vitality; with longings for lovers she never had; and with deep fears that she cannot express to her often fractious family. In the running interior monologue with which she guides herself through the minefields of daily life, however, she also reveals a sardonic, self-deprecating humor that allows her to acknowledge both her shortcomings and her strengths. She can thus grapple with her fears for herself and particularly for her family in a world that she regards as dangerous and crazy. Having weathered a summer of crises, both internal and external, Stacey emerges at her fortieth birthday with a new sense of acceptance and serenity but not capitulation.

Clifford “Mac” MacAindra

Clifford “Mac” MacAindra, a forty-three-year-old, auburn-haired, good-looking salesman for Richalife, a vitamin company. He was forced to take the job, which he dislikes, after the unplanned birth of Duncan. Reserved to the point that he scarcely speaks to his wife, Stacey, he makes love to her only in a perfunctory way. His heavy smoking betrays his inner tension and self-doubt, yet he is conscientious and a good salesman. He has a single...

(The entire section is 754 words.)