The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Evangeline (Eva) Knapp

Evangeline (Eva) Knapp, a housewife. An intense, dark-haired woman in her early thirties, during thirteen years of marriage she has lost her former beauty and now looks worn and unhappy. Because she hates housework but has nothing else to throw herself into, she is impatient with her husband and children, constantly monitoring their behavior, alternately scolding and taking refuge in a polite but oppressive martyrdom. When she takes a job in Willing’s Department Store, she has an outlet for her artistic talent as well as her genius at organization and merchandising. No longer needing to put her passion into housekeeping, she relaxes with her husband and children and becomes as successful at being a mother as she is in her new business career.

Lester Knapp

Lester Knapp, Eva’s husband, a billing clerk at Willing’s Department Store. A thin, sallow-faced man in his early thirties, he is miserable at his job. Although he loves his wife, he is aware of the fact that he abandoned his other love, literature, when he left college to marry her. When a new owner takes over the store, Lester is first passed over for promotion and then fired. Helping a neighbor whose house is on fire, he falls from the roof and is crippled. Out of necessity, he begins to take care of the house and children while his wife works. In the process, he discovers that he is as good at being a homemaker as his wife is in business. When, in a domestic crisis, he realizes that he could walk again, he decides to continue his present status rather than break up the happy home situation.


(The entire section is 669 words.)