Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 848
Johnny Catlett, a Virginian gentleman. From a cute boy, Johnny grows into a handsome man with curly chestnut hair. Reared in a slave-owning family in which ownership and control were taken for granted, Johnny is independent and strong-willed. Charming and courageous, he falls in love with his cousin Melinda. Because he is unwilling to commit himself, he loses her to Fish Kregg. In a fit of jealousy, he runs off to the West, where he attempts to find freedom and peace away from his dominating family. Although he attempts to shut off all of his feelings, he finds that he cannot escape from his heart or his duty and that he really is not fit for any life other than the one into which he was born. After returning to Virginia and taking over the leadership of the family after his father’s death, Johnny is isolated and exhausted, with a hidden sorrow, but he remains controlled and dependable, taking his duty seriously. Attempting to maintain control during the turbulent times at the beginning of the Civil War, Johnny wonders if he is the only one who questions but does not speak. At the end, he realizes that the luxury of questioning has passed him by and, with the start of the war, that he must once again simply do his duty.
Peregrine Lacey Catlett
Peregrine Lacey Catlett, Johnny’s father. A quiet, stern, and often bewildered man, with worried blue eyes and a light, sardonic voice, Peregrine seems fatigued and haunted by a private sadness. He regards his family as a cross he must bear. Although he is always concerned about the welfare of his slaves, as his family starts to disintegrate, he becomes frightened of losing authority and decides against freeing them. Disappointed in his eldest son, Peregrine places all the burden of the family on Johnny’s shoulders, demanding that he continue playing the role of the Southern gentleman.
Melinda Lacey Kregg
Melinda Lacey Kregg, Johnny’s cousin. A tall, thin girl with big, black eyes, smooth raven hair, and a thin, pale face, Melinda was reared as an orphan in the Catlett household. Under the sometimes cruel rule of Cousin Annie, Melinda becomes a bitter and wild girl. Spirited, bold, and determined, she is brave, bright, and imaginative, and not outwardly frightened of anything. Having always been in love with Johnny, she futilely tries to spur him to action by flirting with Fish Kregg. Desperate to escape the Catlett household, she agrees to marry Fish. Although proud and assured, she is disturbed by Johnny’s return, and her control slips. After spending one night with Johnny, in which she conceives his child, she leaves, defeated and with her spirit broken. Never recovering, she dies, still desperately in love with Johnny.
Leah Catlett, Johnny’s mother. An outsider, Leah is a strict Methodist who originally finds owning slaves abhorrent. Lonely, secretive, and never very happy, she fades into the background of the Catlett household. Very self-disciplined, she is determined to maintain her control and passes on her moral judgments to Lewis. Her morals weaken, and she soon sells out, especially after she discovers how much money a slave is worth. Completely defeated, she begins to perceive the slaves as property, to be sold when necessary.
Lewis Catlett, Johnny’s older brother. Shy and thin, with a dark, square face and fierce eyes, Lewis is very sensitive. Taught by his mother that owning slaves is morally wrong, he is disillusioned by his father’s sin and his mother’s weakness, and he never comes to terms with being a slaveowner. Isolated and solitary, he is deeply religious and becomes an abolitionist and a preacher; he eventually runs off to the North to fight with the Union Army.
Crawford “Fish” Kregg
Crawford “Fish” Kregg, Melinda’s husband. Young, blond, and handsome, Fish is very serious and intelligent. Extremely rich, he is very sure of himself and is considered faultless and perfect, with tremendous self-discipline but absolutely no imagination. Always doing exactly what is expected of him, he is calm, even-tempered, and very stable. Lonely and aloof as a young man, he later becomes bitter and cold.
Ann Brandon Neill
Ann Brandon Neill, a poor cousin. Once a beauty, with a straight, thin nose and auburn hair, Annie becomes thin, old, and bitter. A poor relation, she is dominated by the Catletts and takes out her bitterness on Melinda. Made hard-bitten by life and addicted to laudanum, she marries Big Dan O’Neill, a poor Irish worker, and tries to make him into a gentleman, changing their last name to Neill. When she is widowed, she returns to the Catlett household and spends her days gossiping with Sally.
Sally Crawford Lacey
Sally Crawford Lacey, another cousin. Once an innocent, beautiful young woman, with gorgeous blonde curls, she became poor and embittered when her husband lost all of their money and shot himself. Sally, who is not a deep thinker, becomes dependent on her relations and ends up being rather catty.
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