The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Claude Wheeler’s sensitivity and intelligence are obvious, though he himself never recognizes them. His mother and Mahailey, the family housekeeper, love him deeply and know that he is unhappy, yet Claude defers to what he believes are his mother’s wishes when he does not insist on full matriculation at the state university. Similarly, he says nothing when forced to leave college to manage the family farm.

He finds his greatest happiness when he is with intelligent and worldly people: Ernest Havel, a German immigrant who is Claude’s own age; Mrs. Erlich, a cultured widow with five bright sons; Gladys Farmer, a childhood sweetheart and a high school teacher with a gift for music; Victor Morse, a devil-may-care R.A.F. pilot; David Gerhardt, a violinist turned soldier; and Madame Joubert, a farm woman who provides Claude’s first billet in France. All of them offer interludes of happiness in Claude’s restless life. Even so, Cather is careful not to make Claude’s death an indictment of war or even to see it as a tragedy for her protagonist. Claude considers his experience noble, and he dies with convictions he believes worth fighting for.

Evangeline Wheeler has a simple yet profound religious faith and contentment which contrast with her son’s unhappiness. While she has no doubt that she is where her Lord wants her to be, Claude sees her as a woman whose spirit is stifled both by her religion and by her isolated life on the farm. She...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Claude Wheeler

Claude Wheeler, a young Midwestern farmer, sandy-haired and freckle-faced, with a large, square-shaped head and a good physique. As a child, he is characterized by a violent temper and physical restlessness. During adolescence, he struggles with his lack of confidence. Surrounded by many who see the world only as a business proposition, he is uncertain and unguided as he searches for meaning. As he begins, in college, to get excited about learning, he is brought back to work on the family farm. He is sensitive to the land but is also aware of other challenges. His choice in a wife reflects his own lack of direction. In France during World War I, he comes to know himself and to feel a strong sense of purpose. He accepts destiny only when he comes to understand the power of ideals among people.

Lieutenant David Gerhardt

Lieutenant David Gerhardt, a talented violinist and soldier whom Claude at first feels to be his competitor but whom he comes to admire deeply. Highly trained at the Conservatoire, David has toured successfully in America, but he understands that the war has killed all possibility of his returning to his music. He received the nurturing in values that Claude recognizes that he never had.

Enid Royce

Enid Royce, the childhood sweetheart, and later wife, of Claude. Thought to be very pretty, Enid is slender, with a well-shaped head, a pale complexion, and dark eyes. She is strongly committed to a number of causes, such as vegetarianism and prohibition, but she is unaware of Claude’s need to grow.

Gladys Farmer

Gladys Farmer, a schoolteacher and supportive friend of Claude. Gladys sees in...

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Character List

Claude Wheeler—the novel’s main character, a teenaged farm boy when the book opens.

Ralph Wheeler—Claude’s little brother, and the main mechanic on the farm.

Bayliss Wheeler—Claude’s skinny, stiff brother.

Old Mahailey—the Wheeler family’s cook and housemaid.

Dan—a hired hand on the Wheeler farm.

Nat Wheeler—Claude’s father, a powerful man.

Mrs. Evangeline Wheeler—Claude’s mother, a very religious woman, sheltered and often frightened.

Ernest Havel—a friend of Claude’s at the novel’s opening.

Leonard Dawson—the large, powerful son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors.

Brother Weldon—a young preacher who comes from Lincoln.

Edward Chapin—the man Claude lives with at college.

Annabelle Chapin—Edward’s overly affectionate sister.

Mrs. Voigt—the German woman who runs the restaurant near the train station.

Julius Erlich—the quarterback of the state school’s football team.

Mrs. Erlich—Julius’s mother.

Otto Erlich—Julius’s youngest brother.

Miss Peachy Millmore—an art student with whom Claude almost gets involved.

Wilhelmina Schroeder-Schatz—Mrs. Erlich’s cousin and an opera singer.

Tom Wested—former owner of the Colorado ranch that Nat Wheeler purchases.

Gladys Farmer—the musical, attractive young woman whom Bayliss pursues.

Mrs. Farmer—Gladys’s mother, originally from Kentucky.

Enid Royce—the miller’s daughter and later Claude’s wife.

Carrie Royce—Enid’s older sister, a Christian missionary to China.

Jason Royce—the miller who is Enid and Carrie’s father.

Old Mr. Smith—a former minister.

Silent Irv—Gladys’s former student who speaks with a thin, squeaky voice.

Mr. Snowberry—the minister at Claude and Enid’s wedding.

Captain Harris Maxey—the officer in charge of B Company.

Lieutenant Tod Fanning—another office on the Anchises.

Albert Usher—a marine and orphan aboard the Anchises.

Victor Morse—the American who flies for the Royal Air Force.

Lieutenant Bird—the first man to die aboard the Anchises.

Doctor Trueman—the doctor on the Anchises.

Bert Fuller—the crying soldier Claude counsels on the Anchises.

Corporal Tannhauser—a soldier Claude consoles on the Anchises.

The steward—the steward aboard the Anchises who steals supplies for profit.

Sergeant Hicks—one of the more responsible enlisted men in Claude’s company.

Lieutenant David Gerhardt—an officer, musician, and Claude’s friend.

Madame Joubert—one of the French women who hosts the Americans.

Oscar Petersen—an extremely devout Swedish-American soldier.

Captain Barclay Owens—a very short but energetic engineer who is obsessed with Julius Caesar.

Mademoiselle de Courcy—a woman in France who hosts soldiers.

Mademoiselle de Olive—another woman hosting Claude and his men in France.

Mademoiselle Claire & Madame Fleury—the French women who get David to play violin for them.