The human characters in Mrs. Caliban verge on being conventional or predictable figures in a typical American soap opera. Rachel Ingalls,‘however, is a skilled craftsman whose delicate and precise strokes bring even to the minor characters an undeniable authenticity. Fred is a singularly weak and immature man: inarticulate, self-indulgent, irresponsible, insensitive. Having failed to meet the challenges of marriage, Fred is content to ignore Dorothy’s pain and to be mothered by her: She cleans and cooks for him and sees that he has his umbrella or that his tie is straight. Since he cannot respond adequately to the needs of a mature woman, it is altogether fitting that his lover is a sixteen-year-old child, and it is perfectly in character for Fred to disclaim any real responsibility for his affair: “I didn’t even like her, but I was bored. She was the one who started it all.” This despicable little man also predictably reacts to his wife’s renewed vitality and attractiveness by deciding “all in the space of an evening and without consulting her, to put their marriage back where it had been several years ago”—without giving up his tawdry affair with Sandra.
Estelle is a liberated woman: liberated from the repressive strictures of a patriarchal society but unable to replace the conventional values she has rejected with any values of substance. Rather, she has opted for promiscuity and self-indulgence. She is a “natural speeder” who is finally overbearing and insensitive. Estelle confuses a frivolous compulsion to own an elaborate white costume gown with romance and the “nature of desire.” The reader’s compassion for her grief at the loss of her two children and her...
(The entire section is 699 words.)