The main characters in Housekeeping are Ruth Stone, Lucille Stone, Sylvie Foster Fisher, Sylvia Foster, and Helen Foster Stone.
- Ruth Stone is the narrator and protagonist. She decides to become a drifter with her aunt Sylvie.
- Lucille Stone is Ruth's sister. She decides to live a conventional life.
- Sylvie Foster Fisher is Ruth and Lucille's eccentric aunt, who cares for them as best she can before becoming a drifter with Ruth.
- Sylvia Foster is Ruth and Lucille's grandmother, who cares for the girls after their mother's death.
- Helen Foster Stone is Ruth and Lucille's mother, who commits suicide by driving into a lake.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553
Ruth Stone, the protagonist and first-person narrator. An awkward adolescent during much of the novel, Ruth is often silent and likes to read. Like the biblical Ruth, she is destined to follow others; first her sister Lucille in a search for acceptance from the town, then her aunt Sylvie in a search for identity. Ruth, though passive and interior, carefully considers the world around her and is a keen observer. She gradually abandons the conventional world of Fingerbone, Idaho, for the lure of a transient lifestyle with Sylvie. As Ruth recollects the events of the novel, she builds her identity.
Lucille Stone, Ruth’s younger sister, who is usually the one to lead her older, more shy sister around. Lucille is more interested in being like everyone else than is Ruth. She attempts to participate in the shadowy forms of housekeeping practiced by Sylvie but eventually abandons the hope that her aunt—and eventually, even Ruthie—will ever conform to any recognizable social conventions. Lucille is not content to drift; she is interested in anchoring and some permanence in her life.
Sylvie Foster Fisher
Sylvie Foster Fisher, Ruth and Lucille’s mysterious aunt. She comes to take care of Ruth and Lucille after Lily and Nona declare themselves unable to do so. Sylvie attempts to overcome her urge to drift and travel without destination in a heroic effort to provide a home for her nieces. Ruth and Lucille know nothing about their aunt when she comes to live with them, and Sylvie volunteers little other than that she is still married to Mr. Fisher and that she left him and has been living a life of satisfied transience. Her pockets are full of odds and ends, and she is generally impervious to the conventions of rearing children. Sylvie does one thing that the other caretakers of Ruth and Lucille have failed to do: She stays until they no longer need her.
Sylvia Foster, Ruth and Lucille’s grandmother and Sylvie and Helen’s mother. Sylvia’s main sense of identification comes from the daily acts of providing a home, first for her three daughters after the surprising death of her husband, Edmund, and later for Ruth and Lucille after the death of their mother, Helen. Sylvia’s identity is achieved through her relationships with others—as wife, widow, mother, and grandmother—and her homemaking skills.
Helen Foster Stone
Helen Foster Stone, the mother of Ruth and Lucille; Sylvie’s sister. Abandoned by her husband with two small daughters in Seattle, Washington, Helen refuses to tell the girls anything about their father. After seven and a half years as a single, working parent, Helen returns to Fingerbone, deposits the girls with Sylvia, and drives a borrowed car into the lake that had earlier claimed her father in a freak train accident.
Lily Foster and
Nona Foster, sisters-in-law to Sylvia Foster who try to care for Ruth and Lucille after Sylvia’s death. Unable to deal with the needs of growing girls, the sisters decide to invite Sylvie back to Fingerbone to care for the girls.
Miss Royce, a home economics teacher who eventually takes in Lucille and gives her an opportunity to live a more conventional life than that provided by Sylvie.