The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Drabble has peopled The Middle Ground with a diverse and extensive cast of characters. Among the most memorable are Kate’s obese, agoraphobic mother; Hunt, the down-at-the-heels, drunken bohemian who introduced Kate to her husband and helped her escape from her East Romley world; Mujib, the serious, inquisitive young Iraqi; Marylou Scott (nee Shirley), who went from Romley Fourways secondary modern school to the silver screen and a sterile, expensively decorated apartment; and little Rubia Subhan, the eight-year-old Pakistani girl who has the presence of mind to summon help for Evelyn after her injury. Drabble’s obvious affection for young people can be seen in her brief but lively sketches of the Armstrong, Stennett, and Mainwaring children, with their punk hairdos, their outrageous sweatshirts, and their touching and surprising moments of support and insight.

These characters and many others provide the background against which Drabble presents the four central figures. Kate is, of course, the most fully developed, a lively, vibrant, contradictory figure. She wears expensive boots with rummage sale shirts, lives in a remodeled fish-and-chips shop in cozy but invariably cluttered surroundings, and rather envies Evelyn’s ability to provide regular sit-down, orderly meals for her family. Her friends depend upon her for motherly solicitude and perennial cheerfulness; she, as Hugo observes, depends on them as an audience—“many things that Kate did were little performances, requiring applause, enquiry or comment.” Kate is, above all, a very human character, recognizable and sympathetic.

Kate’s warmth, her cheerful disorder, and her dependence on...

(The entire section is 691 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Kate Armstrong

Kate Armstrong, a thirty-one-year-old mother, divorcée, and successful writer of articles about women and the underprivileged. A brown-haired woman from a middle-class background, Kate is going through a midlife crisis in both her private and professional lives. Up to this point, she had been energetic, successful, witty, and lucky. She postponed a career to take care of her family, then returned to journalism when her children entered school. Her husband, Stuart, an unsuccessful artist, became envious of her success and began having affairs, and she divorced him. When the book opens, she is depressed, restless, self-absorbed, and frantically trying to balance the responsibilities she feels toward her parents, her children, her friends, and herself. Her house, as busy as a bus station, serves as a metaphor for her life of turmoil. The book ends with Kate realizing that she does have some control over her life and finally coming to terms with herself.

Hugo Mainwaring

Hugo Mainwaring, Kate’s friend, a writer on international affairs. A worldly man with a Cambridge education, Hugo is quiet and reserved, yet often the mediator in social situations. During an assignment in Eritrea, he lost half of his arm while saving a child’s life. At the beginning of the novel, he is experiencing a midlife crisis caused in part by a failed marriage, a son recently brain damaged by an overdose of anesthetic during a...

(The entire section is 553 words.)