Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419
Oliver Alden, a young man who despises human weakness. He is a puritan in spite of himself. He is not prudish or a prig; he simply and truly believes that one must do one’s duty, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. He does not really believe in love, because it is illogical and unreasonable at times; for this reason, he is rejected by the two women to whom, out of a sense of duty, he proposes. At the end of his life, he provides in his will for all the people to whom he feels responsible, but he leaves the largest sum to his mother because he feels it is his duty to do so.
Peter Alden, Oliver’s father, who spends most of his life wandering about the world. He marries the daughter of a psychiatrist because the psychiatrist tells him that what he needs to cure his mostly imaginary ills are a home and a wife. He commits suicide in order to free Oliver of a sense of duty toward him.
Harriet Alden, Oliver’s mother. She does not allow Oliver to play with other children, because they might be vulgar or dirty, and she allows Oliver no exposure to the frivolities of life.
Fraulein Irma Schlote
Fraulein Irma Schlote, Oliver’s governess, who gives Oliver a love of nature and of the German language and brings a little light into his childhood.
Jim Darnley, Oliver’s closest friend, who is worldly and sophisticated and has no sense of duty whatever. He is killed in the war, adding his wife and child to Oliver’s list of responsibilities.
Rose Darnley, Jim’s sister, one of the women to whom Oliver proposes. She refuses him because she knows that he is proposing because he feels it is his duty to marry and have children.
Mario Van de Weyer
Mario Van de Weyer, Oliver’s cousin, a romantic young man who lives off his rich relatives. Oliver is greatly puzzled by the fact that Mario does not mind sponging off others. Mario is a happy-go-lucky fellow who immediately enlists when the war breaks out.
Edith Van de Weyer
Edith Van de Weyer, also Oliver’s cousin, to whom he proposes marriage. She refuses him because he forgets to say anything about loving her in his proposal, and she wants more than mere duty in marriage.
Bobby, Jim’s illegitimate son, for whom Oliver provides in his will.