Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Mrs. May is a widow and the owner of a dairy farm. She lives with her two adult sons, who consistently fall short of her lofty expectations. Her long-term hired help, Mr. Greenleaf, is her nemesis, as she despises and envies him and his family but refuses to fire him. In the story, Mrs. May struggles to accept her lot in life and projects immense jealousy toward Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf for their good fortune, thriving health, and productive, successful sons.
Throughout the story, readers realize that Mrs. May is a bitter, proud woman who structures her life around a self-imposed set of arbitrary standards. She finds appearance incredibly important and wishes to appear as high class as possible. As a secular woman, she finds value in her work rather than in faith. She prides herself on her hard work and believes that her toils make her a better, higher-caliber person than those around her. The story revolves around her close-minded folly and unfair projection of her values onto others. As such, the story ends with her enlightenment, as the bull's horns gore her physically and spiritually.
Scofield is Mrs. May's eldest son. He is thirty-six years old, impudent, and often mean-spirited. He served two years in the army and retired with the rank of Private First Class. He is unmarried and prides himself on being the best insurance salesman in the African American community. His pride in his accomplishments is one source of Mrs. May's angst, as she finds his limited success shameful and does not find pride in his career choices. She is also troubled by Scofield's disagreeable temperament and irreverent attitudes.
Wesley is Mrs. May's youngest son. She worries about him constantly, as he is sickly and frail and struggles with easy tasks. A bald, thin, and nervous man, Wesley is a schoolteacher who seems obsessed with intellectual pursuits. Mrs. May refers to him as an “intellectual,” as she finds his chosen profession just as shameful as his brother's and wishes to make it appear more respectable. Like his brother, Wesley is also unmarried. He seems to detest life, society, and the idea of courting young women from good families. Often, it appears that Wesley wishes only to retire to his books and avoid the social responsibilities he despises.
O.T. and E.T.
The Greenleaf twins are well-mannered and diligent young men. Their industriousness and happy marriages make them the complete opposites of Mrs. May's lonely, unsuccessful sons. Both Greenleaf brothers served during the Second World War, and each managed to achieve the rank of sergeant.
The two were wounded during the war and currently receive government pensions. They used this resource to fund their time at an agricultural school, earn their degree, and open lucrative businesses. O.T. and E.T. seem to be functional, happy people whose mere existence drives Mrs. May slightly crazy. When their bull, whom they care little to rein in or control, begins to disrupt her farm, she is incensed. Her desire for revenge against the pair is what eventually leads her to a spiritual revelation and, perhaps, death.
Mr. and Mrs. Greenfield
Mr. and Mrs. Greenfield are the parents of O.T. and E.T. According to Mrs. May, the couple is lower-class and unrefined. She sees their success as unearned, and she looks down on their piety and spirituality. Mr. Greenfield is also Mrs. May's hired help. In the story, he and Mrs. May consistently get into heated quarrels about his job performance, though their arguments are thinly veiled outlets for Mrs. May to take out her jealousy on its source.
As for Mrs. Greenfield, Mrs. May notes that the Greenleaf matriarch is a religious maverick of sorts. Mrs. Greenleaf engages in what she calls "prayer healing," but her religious inclinations make Mrs. May uncomfortable. While the Greenleaf family is the source of much of Mrs. May’s anger and envy, they are also the source of much discomfort and worry, for she fears their ability to corrupt her sons, who she worries might marry women such as Mrs. Greenleaf.