Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Marian Forrester

Marian Forrester, the charming, lovely wife of Captain Daniel Forrester, a contractor during the great railroad-building period in the West. She is shown first in her home in Sweet Water, Colorado, where she sheds the warm radiance of her personality on all about her, from the railway and mining aristocracy who come visiting in their private cars to the village boys who go fishing in the creek running through the Forrester property. One of these is Niel Herbert, an impressionable adolescent through whose eyes, as he grows in years and understanding, the story of her decline is presented. The flaw in Mrs. Forrester’s character is the fact that she possesses no inner resources of her own. As long as she can draw on her husband’s quiet strength, she is her gay, gracious self. But when a series of misfortunes strike the old railroader—a fall from a horse, a bank failure, a crippling stroke—she finds herself tied to a semi-invalid, trapped in a dwindling community no longer important on the Burlington line, and she becomes desperate. Unable to face neglect or hardship, she finds escape in love affairs and drink, and in the end surrenders herself as well as her business affairs to Ivy Peters, an unscrupulous shyster lawyer of the new generation in the West. Eventually, Niel Herbert hears that she has died in the Argentine as the wife of an English rancher named Henry Collins. Mrs. Forrester is one of Willa Cather’s most complex characters, a figure requiring great insight and skill to reveal clearly the reasons for her degradation and the contradictory, ambiguous elements in her nature that make her both a woman of grace and poise and a person capable of coarseness and lust in her pursuit of virile younger men. The picture of her deterioration is linked subtly with the declining importance of Sweet Water as a frontier town and the passing of the Old West into a newer and less heroic age.

Captain Daniel Forrester

Captain Daniel Forrester, a builder whose great dream had been to see the railroads spanning the continent. A reserved, silent man, he has been a doer rather than a sayer, as unimpeachable in his honor as he is punctilious in courtesy. After a fall from his horse, he retires to his Sweet Water home with his younger wife. When a Denver bank fails, he assumes a moral obligation and uses his private fortune to satisfy its depositors. A short time later, he suffers a stroke...

(The entire section is 999 words.)