Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702
Miranda is exposed during her girlhood and adolescence to contrary memories of her Aunt Amy, who has a lasting impact on her worldview. She is a perceptive child, able to draw conclusions about her dead aunt from what people say and what they show her, even indirectly. At first, her naturally romantic spirit draws her toward the myth propagated by her father and Uncle Gabriel; they portray Amy as a romantic figure.
However, she is kept from embracing this myth entirely by the more conservative forces in her young life, such as her Aunt Eva. She spends time with her sister being educated at a convent, a lifestyle she recalls as being very restrictive. She looks forward to occasional trips with her family to the horse races. After attending her uncle's funeral, she comes to the conclusion that she can subscribe to neither her father nor Eva's worldview and must therefore find her own path.
Much like her sister, Maria is fascinated by the adults in her life, especially by their morbid obsession with the past. She shares most of her childhood experiences with Miranda, but when Miranda marries, the sisters go their separate ways.
Amy looms as an unseen but constantly-present specter over Miranda and Maria. While she is remembered as beautiful and charming, Aunt Amy is not without her controversial aspects as a character. She is said by Aunt Eva to have been manipulative, using her weak chest to keep Gabriel in suspense for years while she enjoyed herself with other boys. Moreover, she caused a scandal on one occasion when, on returning from a dance, her appearance gave Gabriel reason to suspect her of being unfaithful with another man. Her patronizing treatment of Eva on the basis of her appearance, moreover, suggests a certain arrogance born out of her own beauty.
Like Amy, Sally never appears in the text. Through her correspondence, however, she constitutes a force of conservative Christian ethics and is very much in conflict with the influence of Amy on Miranda and Maria.
The children's father values physical beauty above all else. For this reason, he is devoted to the romantic memory of his sister Amy and is disappointed by his children, who at first seem ugly. He cares deeply about his family's honor and is capable of acts of self-sacrifice to maintain it—as when he fires shots at Amy's suitor in order to spare her reputation. He sees physical beauty as bound up with his family's good name and chooses to forget members of the family who fall short of this ideal.
Gabriel was once betrothed and then married (for a short time) to Amy. In his youth, he was a fiery and romantic lover who was ready to resort to violence because of how jealous he felt about Amy's suspected infidelities. He showed his romantic impulses by composing poetry about his wife, which is how she is primarily remembered in the family. However, in the years following Amy's death, his second marriage sees his decline into a state of vice and depravity due to his love of horse racing—a decline that eventually ends with his demise.
While she is not physically attractive, Miss Honey has a strong moral character and feels that she is above her husband and his love of horse racing. She is rude to Miranda and Maria on the basis of her moral convictions and does all she can to turn her husband away from his path of vice. However, she dies before him, which is somewhat ironic, given her efforts to live a physically and morally healthy life.
Eva is bitter about her appearance, which was unfavorably contrasted with that of Amy's when the two were girls. She comes across as an unsympathetic character given her bitterness and strict moral sensibilities; however, she is a very passionate person who dedicates herself to the fight for women's suffrage.
Grandmother as a character is the embodiment of sorrow. Her regret for and obsession with the past is reflected in her annual custom of looking at the various items she has collected from those days, which she stores for most of the year in the attic.