The thrifty, neat, and energetic Eva Knapp appears to her community as an enduring, virtuous wife and mother. Yet she is far from perfect. Fisher redeems what could be a cliche figure of the harried housewife by vividly describing Eva’s frustrations and her compulsive need for order. Fisher suggests that Eva’s eczema is related to the despair and tension that she suffers at home; her long dark hair, which she keeps tightly coiled about her head, symbolizes her anxiety.
Eva changes when she begins her career at the Willings Emporium. As new talents emerge—Eva discovers that she has a gift for public relations and for marketing ideas—her obsessions with domestic order relax. Thus, Fisher portrays the emancipated American housewife of the 1920’s. Her portrait, however, is fundamentally conservative.
Eva epitomizes the Old Testament definition of the virtuous wife. She sells fine linen and wool in the marketplace. She rises early and works at the store with willing hands. She provides for her children with the fruit of her labor and grows to admire and praise Lester’s strengths.
Lester Knapp is a complex character. His virtues are more obscure than Eva’s, so the sympathy he evokes requires much more finesse on Fisher’s part. Drawn probably from a composite of Fisher’s own father and husband, who were both professors, Lester has the idealism and the idiosyncracies characteristic of an academic thwarted by...
(The entire section is 458 words.)