Samuel Clark is an imaginative, sensitive man who inherits the mill because of his father’s ruthlessness. Sam has great ambitions, but he is incapable of realizing them. He is an idealist, who has little practical sense of man’s immediate needs and wants. Because he thinks only in terms of ideal visions, Sam is continually frustrated by man’s smallness, pettiness, and greed. He is, in a sense, a dreamer. His dream is great, even magnificent, but his capacity for action is limited.
Rudyard Clark, Sam’s father, is a very different man. He often takes Sam’s ideas and plans, but he uses them in an immediate and ruthless fashion. Rudyard is a financier, an extremely practical one, who can, and does, turn an idea into a profitable venture. Rudyard is the great financier, the builder and owner of trusts and combines. He wields power ruthlessly to gain more power and wealth for himself and his immediate family.
Edmund Clark, Sam’s son, is also an idealist, but he is an idealist who thinks little about man’s immediate needs. In fact, Edmund can accept and tolerate the suffering of mankind as long as, eventually, there might be relief. Edmund becomes a senator to put his dream into action. Moved only by a vision of a better future, he becomes a cold man of action, determined to control and manipulate everything and everyone—his father, his wife, his workers—to have his own way. His every action is perfectly practical and perfectly heartless. There is no sympathy for him when he is finally shot by a stray bullet during a workers’ revolt. Three other characters need some attention. The reader may, initially, be puzzled by the fact that three women in the novel are called Maud. Yet Frederick Philip Grove deliberately called the women by the same name to indicate how often the men in the novel overlook the key values the women embody: love, compassion, and feeling. That the protagonist, in his old age, confounds one Maud with another is, for Grove, to suggest that his main character senses that the three women (or the three characteristics they embody) are somehow necessary to his life and ambitions.