Mrs. Whipple’s brother comes to visit with his family, comprised of her brother’s wife and ‘‘two great roaring hungry boys.’’ Mrs. Whipple wants her brother to believe that her family is doing well financially, so she fixes a grand dinner for him and his family. She appears to have convinced him, or at least he is smart enough to reassure her with the statement: ‘‘This looks like prosperity all right,’’ after finishing the meal. The statement is so obvious and loaded with irony, however, that the brother may well have been aware that his sister was trying to impress him. Mr. Whipple is not as assured that the brother believed the pretense, but Mrs. Whipple is convinced that her brother could not see their poverty. The scene with Mrs. Whipple’s brother is brief, but it is used to show at what length Mrs. Whipple will go to avoid anyone thinking that she is poor or feeling sorry for her.
Adna is the oldest son of the Whipples. At the end of the story, Adna leaves home to take a job in a grocery store in town, believing that anything would be better than living under the poor conditions at home. Adna is more fearful than his brother, He, and Mrs. Whipple calls Adna an ‘‘old fraidy’’ because he won’t go into the pigpen to take the piglet away from the sow. All that is known about Adna other than this is that he is smaller than He and attends school like other normal children. Adna and his sister, Emly, are used in contrast to He, to emphasize the trouble the Whipples have in taking care of him. At one point, Mrs. Whipple makes reference to Adna’s intelligence, believing that it is sad that one of her sons is so strong and the other one is so smart, implying that she wished the two sons had been combined into one.
Emly is the only daughter in the Whipple home. Her age is not divulged but toward the end of the story, her mother comments that she is old enough to take a job in a small cafe in town, although she is still in school. Little is said about Emly in the story accept that she is more like other children around her than her brother, He, and that she sometimes whines for food. It is insinuated that Emly and Adna are sometimes more trouble than He because they have normal emotions.
He is the second son of the Whipples. He is mute and mentally disadvantaged. It is not known if the Whipples ever name their son because throughout the story the boy is only referred to as He. He is ten years old at the beginning of the story, is larger than his older brother, and his mother prizes him because he appears to be without fear or any other emotion. Mrs. Whipple takes advantage of this apparent characteristic and makes him do all the hard work around the farm, as well as depriving him of warm clothes and blankets during the winter.
He does as he is told without vocalizing any complaints. Because of this trait, his mother believes he has no feelings. Despite the fact that he demonstrates his feelings through physical gestures, his mother takes no notice until the final scene in the story when she is taking him to a nursing home to live. It is at the end of the story that his mother becomes fully aware of him as a person, but she quickly dismisses this revelation because she must rationalize not taking care of him anymore.
Mr. Whipple is not a quiet man, but he does often acquiesce to his wife after stating his mind. He is more rational than Mrs. Whipple, who seems to live in a dream world. He is also a very practical man, realizing how extravagant it is to kill a suckling pig, as well as knowing when and how his family must economize in order to make ends meet.
It is also Mr. Whipple who convinces Mrs. Whipple that the best thing they can do for He, when his health declines, is to send him away...
(The entire section is 1,068 words.)