The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The chief interest of the novel lies in the intense inner life of Theodosia. She is presented from the outset as a girl of extreme sensitivity, aware of subtle currents of feeling which escape her elders. She is also alienated from her environment, both human and natural, and afflicted with melancholy; Roberts, in her notes about the novel, described Theodosia as “a wandering spirit, a lost thing.” Theodosia herself is acutely aware of her malaise: “It seemed to her that she lived with only a part of her being, that only a small edge of her person lifted up into the light of the day.” She is, in consequence, preoccupied with the search for self-knowledge and for the innermost core of existence, refusing to be content with anything less. The sight of a tree fills her with a “passion to know all of this strange thing,” and it is the same with her family: She ponders her half sister Americy “to the roots of her life and her being,” and as her grandfather lies dying she attempts to discover his soul, his irreducible essence, for if she can locate the soul of another being, surely she can also locate her own? In everything, Theodosia searches for ultimate reality and meaning, that which is “perpetually existent, unchanged, beyond delusion,” driven on by a sense of the insufficiency of things as they are.

Roberts lavishes so much attention on Theodosia that other characters are indistinctly realized, revealing themselves largely through their interactions with the protagonist. Perhaps the most sympathetic is Theodosia’s grandfather, Anthony Bell. Formerly a teacher and scholar, he has...

(The entire section is 660 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Theodosia Bell

Theodosia Bell, the roan-haired, beautiful daughter of Horace and the granddaughter of Anthony. As a female child reared in the South (Kentucky), she is groomed for a life of comfort and privilege. Because her grandfather excelled at playing the violin, Theodosia becomes a student of the same instrument. Her need for personal achievement is satisfied as she becomes an accomplished musician. She is frustrated, however, that she has not inherited her grandfather’s hands, and she finds that this lack limits her potential as a violinist. When her mother dies, Theodosia is required to nurse her ailing grandfather. He is, at times, delirious, and calls out the names of persons whom Theodosia does not know. Seeking enlightenment, she reads his personal papers, in which she learns that she is the half sister of Americy Froman, Lethe Ross, and the stable boy, Stiggins, all three of whom are of mixed race. Because of her conditioning, Theodosia is repulsed by this information, but she cannot resist a need to learn more about these people, whom she has known all of her life but has regarded as inferior. She seems destined to be alone when her grandfather dies and her father, whose incestuous advances she has managed to avoid, abandons her. In the end, after contracting tuberculosis and nearly starving to death, she shows her inner strength when she overcomes the speculation and rumors about her past and is accepted as a member of her new community. She is aided by Caleb Burns’s declaration of love for her.

Horace Bell

Horace Bell, Theodosia’s irresponsible father. He has fathered children by women other than his wife—women not of his own race—and has done little, if anything, to bring comfort to any of them. His long-suffering wife...

(The entire section is 734 words.)