Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 781
Arleen Arleen is Father Snow’s companion and advisor. She joins him while he is a guest at Mommy and Daddy’s big nineteenth-century house. She and Father Snow do not have a romantic relationship; she seems to be helping him work through his problems, probably in relation to his grief over...
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Arleen is Father Snow’s companion and advisor. She joins him while he is a guest at Mommy and Daddy’s big nineteenth-century house. She and Father Snow do not have a romantic relationship; she seems to be helping him work through his problems, probably in relation to his grief over the death of his lover Donny. Arleen is the only American character in this story, which is set in Great Britain. The girls describe her as plain and shy with long, beautiful auburn hair. They often belittle her clothing, demeanor, and mannerisms. Arleen catches the girls with her diary and recites for them what she has written in it about their mother. It does not make sense to the girls, who refuse to believe that their mother would be so intimate with this woman. This journal contains Arleen’s notes because she is also examining Mommy to see what is making her ill. At the end of the story, Arleen reveals her diagnosis by recommending that Mommy kick her daughters out of the house because the girls are slowly killing her. If this wild declaration were not odd enough, Mommy suddenly has a stroke and drops dead.
Daddy is a nearly invisible character. The girls worry that he is unhappy because he is drinking and smoking more than he used to and is sometimes harsh with them. In the final scene of the story, the girls reveal that Daddy hit and probably killed a man on the side of the road while driving to meet Mommy for a date and to ask her to marry him. The evening and the life ahead of him, he felt, were too important to muddle up with an accident so he drove on. This heartless and morally reprehensible act is reminiscent of how his daughters behave.
The girls are sisters, thirty-one and thirty-three years of age. Their names are not given. They are the point of view characters and their personalities are indistinguishable. They do not have the closeness of twins, who do exhibit distinct personalities despite outward similarities. These sisters think and act as a single entity. They are British, beautiful, and obsessed with the idea of their own importance and attractiveness. They declare that they have never been in love and do not plan to marry because it would mean some level of separation from each other. They go to clubs but talk only to each other. The girls like to make collages with found items. They own two cats, on which they dote. They have a more than hearty enjoyment of the grotesque, from their cats’ killing songbirds in the garden to their father’s striking down a man on the side of the road and leaving him there to die while Daddy hurried on to propose to his girlfriend. The girls are aware that their parents are unwell but refuse to believe that it has anything to do with them. They are narcissistic and believe themselves to be above reproach.
Mommy is the mother of the two girls. She and Daddy have been married thirty-five years. Their daughters still live them in their nineteenth-century, three-storey house. Mommy is a very accommodating woman. Mommy and Daddy entertain houseguests all summer long, every summer, which irritates the daughters. The girls note that Mommy’s “enchantment with life seemed to be waning,” and they are concerned for her health. As revealed in Arleen’s journal, Mommy has been consulting with Arleen about her health. Arleen reveals to the family at the end of the story that the girls are killing their mother and must move out. Caught between Arleen and her daughters, Mommy does not know what to do. She tries to pretend everything is normal, but she seizes up, possibly from a stroke or heart attack. Mommy falls to the floor, hitting her head on the lintel of the fireplace, and dies.
Father Snow is pastor at the city’s Episcopal Church. He is a houseguest at Mommy and Daddy’s house and is the only repeat houseguest, possibly because he is oblivious to the girls’ torments. The girls call him Father Ice behind his back, a nickname they see as ironic since he is anything but ice-like, being very emotional. In this story, Father Snow is deeply depressed about the death of his lover, Donny. He likes to drink martinis, which he mixes for the family during cocktail hour. Father Snow snaps out of his depression at the very end of the story when Mommy drops dead, and he must use his training as a minister to tend to her departing soul.