Annie Bates is the daughter of Elizabeth and Walter Bates and the sister of John Bates. She is a schoolgirl with curly hair that is changing from her father’s blonde color. Annie is chided by her mother for returning late from school, an assessment Annie disputes. The mother and daughter consider Walter Bates’s late arrival, and they both understand the signs which indicate that he may have stopped at a pub on his way home. Annie feels pity for her mother and at Annie’s suggestion they all begin supper without her father. Annie is sensitive to her surroundings and speaks imaginatively of the caves she sees within the fire, though she is chided by her brother for playing with and inadvertently suppressing the fire. After supper, Annie enters an imaginative ‘‘play-world’’ with her brother. Annie clearly loves her mother and wants to comfort and delight her, and she shares in her mother’s concerns for Walter Bates, though she perhaps is more prepared to distance herself from her father’s bad habits and lack of consideration. She admires the scent of the chrysanthemums in her mother’s apron and tries to make her mother keep the flowers there. She awakens when the men bring in the body of the dead Walter Bates, but she takes comfort in the soothing words of her mother.
Elizabeth Bates is the wife of Walter Bates, a miner, and the mother of two children, John and Annie. The story’s central character, Elizabeth is shown awaiting the arrival of her husband, who may have stopped off at a pub on his way home. She calls in her young son, who is playing outside and gives tea to her father, the driver of a mine train, who briefly drops in to see his daughter and tell her of his upcoming marriage. When her daughter arrives, Elizabeth scolds her for being late. After Elizabeth and her children eat their supper, she searches for her husband. A neighbor sends her mother-in-law, Mrs. Bates, to comfort her when it appears that Walter Bates has been injured in the mine. After the men from the mine bring home the body of Walter Bates, the two women lay out the corpse.
Elizabeth is a proud, even ‘‘imperious,’’ woman. She resents her husband, who drinks irresponsibly. She feels that he undermines her efforts to provide a respectable home for their children. However, the sentimental musings she entertains about possible outcomes from the accident suggest that she had romantic illusions in the past about what marriage to the handsome and jolly Walter Bates might bring. She blames herself for her folly. She clearly considers herself to be in a higher social class than her neighbors, as indicated by her use of standard English and her disdain for any displays of impropriety, whether it be her father’s hasty marriage, her son’s dirty clothes, or her neighbor’s unkempt household. At the end of the story, encountering the dead body of her husband, she recognizes that she has never really understood Walter Bates and has been largely responsible for the failure of her marriage.
John Bates is the five-year-old son of Elizabeth and Walter Bates and the brother of Annie Bates. At the beginning of the story, he is called in from playing outside. He is resentful and defiant towards his mother, who wants to keep him from playing at the brook and from doing things that she considers ‘‘nasty,’’ like destroying flowers. John wears a ‘‘cut down’’ version of men’s clothes and his mother wishes to make him into a more respectable adult than his father. Inside the house John works at a piece of wood with a knife, and his mother ‘‘saw the father in her child’s indifference to all but himself.’’ Like his father, John is associated with darkness and shadow; moreover, the ‘‘invisible’’ John complains that his sister’s handling of the fire has reduced his ability to see. His mother complains that he is ‘‘as bad as your father if it’s a bit dusk!’’ She lights a lamp for him, and after supper he...
(The entire section is 1,179 words.)