The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Lucy, Cather has captured the best of what it means to be young, talented, and discovering the world. The impression of quickness that Lucy leaves on her observers’ minds—the idea that she is poised for flight—is a symbol of Lucy’s intellect. She is learning to appreciate many of the artistic and natural wonders of her world; her joy in music, in winter, and in the city is too great not to be conveyed to those around her. Caught in the throes of discovery, Lucy is also something of an egotist, impatient with those who are not as quick as she is, angry when she has to defend her impetuosity. Frequently, she responds impulsively, learning later that her haste is self-destructive.

A foil to Lucy’s youth is Pauline, Lucy’s older sister. Pauline has managed her father’s home since her mother’s death and has reared Lucy. Believing that she is the only responsible figure in an unappreciative family, Pauline resents Lucy’s beauty and spontaneity. Always looking for ways to supplement her father’s meager income, Pauline thinks that Lucy’s music lessons in Chicago are an extravagance, and though she does not try to stop them, she accuses Lucy of lacking appreciation for the people who do the most for her. Further, she thinks that Lucy is not doing enough to encourage Harry Gordon. In a rich husband, Pauline sees Lucy’s best hope of repaying what she owes to the family. Lucy, who gives piano lessons and earns a good salary accompanying Sebastian, resents Pauline’s interference and interprets Pauline’s attempts to understand her as efforts at martyrdom.

The two...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lucy Gayheart

Lucy Gayheart, a music student in Chicago. She is a bright, willful, and talented young pianist, the darling of her hometown of Haverford, Nebraska. She is particularly prized by her father, Jacob Gayheart, and the heir to the local bank, Howard Gordon. While studying music under her mentor, Paul Auerbach, Lucy attends a recital by Clement Sebastian, a concert singer. Later, while working with Clement, Lucy falls in love with him, as both a man and an artist. Pleased and surprised to learn that he shares her feelings, although he has a wife in England, she lies to Howard Gordon that she and Sebastian have been lovers. In late spring, Sebastian leaves for a tour of Europe, and Lucy is devastated in September to hear that he has died in a boating accident. She returns to Haverford depressed, amid much curiosity and gossip, but tells no one her tale. Barely tolerated by her older sister, Pauline Gayheart, she is completely scorned by Howard Gordon, who has married another woman. After an argument with Pauline in the middle of winter, she walks down to an old ice-skating area, unaware that while she was away in Chicago, the riverbed shifted and that the area is no longer safe for skating. The ice breaks, she falls in, her feet get caught on a log, and she drowns.

Howard Gordon

Howard Gordon, the son of a Haverford banker and a businessman in his own right. Wealthy, strong-willed, handsome, and accustomed to getting his own way, he decides—as he and Lucy are leaving Haverford after Christmas—that he will marry her. When he meets her in Chicago for the opera season, he proposes to her. Lucy refuses, exaggerating the nature of her relationship with Sebastian, and he walks out on her. Several weeks later, he marries Harriet Arkwright, a young heiress whom he had...

(The entire section is 746 words.)