The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel has essentially only one character, Cecelia herself. Although the book is narrated in the third person, Cecelia is the only character presented internally as well as externally; hers is the only consciousness readers enter. All other characters— including those with direct bearing on the action—appear only as they affect her. This close-up technique highlights and heightens Cecelia’s persona, enabling the reader to identify easily with her, to experience events through her. Because the novel is an exercise in ethnic consciousness-raising, this succeeds: Readers certainly learn the problems in development faced by Native American women. Yet the approach also reduces the status of all other characters and possible points of view.

Cecelia is complex enough and her situation difficult enough to deserve central staging in a work devoted to her. Simply describing that situation illustrates the complexity and difficulty. She is a thirty-year-old, reservation-reared, codependent Native American woman in her second year of law school. She thus exemplifies at least six levels of social and cultural dislocation, six barriers to her chosen goal.

Reared in segregation, she begins with the burdens of inferior education and inadequate role models, conditioned to accept secondary, or even tertiary, status. With an alcoholic father and disabled mother, she has grown up assuming that such deficiencies are normal. Membership in an ethnic minority...

(The entire section is 588 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Cecelia Capture

Cecelia Capture, the protagonist, through whose point of view the story is told. Born into a dysfunctional family on a reservation in Idaho, Cecelia early demonstrates academic talent but becomes a high-school dropout and an unmarried teenage mother on welfare. At the age of twenty-one, she enters the City College of San Francisco, where she meets Nathan Welles, whom she later marries. While subsequently attending law school, she is arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated and is also held for welfare fraud, an old charge. During her weekend incarceration, she reminisces about her past; after her trial, she is freed. A meeting with her husband results in a decision to divorce, thereby freeing her to start a new life.

Nathan Welles

Nathan Welles, Cecelia’s husband, a graduate student and eventually an English professor at a community college in Spokane. Emotionally detached, socially conscious, and extremely rigid, he proves to be an ineffective parent for Corey, Cecelia’s son by Bud Donahue, and Nicole, his and Cecelia’s daughter.

Will Capture

Will Capture, Cecelia’s father, a talented athlete and scholar who wins a football scholarship to Notre Dame. He hurts his knee and flunks out. After serving in World War II, he becomes a prizefighter, then spends a year in prison for almost killing a bigoted white man. His alcoholism and domestic problems lead him...

(The entire section is 499 words.)