Ellen MacNamara embodies many of the worst aspects of Irish culture and experience. Although she is bright, opinionated, and outspoken by nature, her childhood taught her concealment, shame, insularity, and anger. She has not adopted the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness: “She’d never believed in happiness. The mention of it put her in a fury.” Although a voracious reader, passionately interested in the outside world, she shrinks her own universe to claustrophobic dimensions, allowing none but family and the closest friends inside her home.
Vincent, on the other hand, embodies more positive aspects of the Irish character. Despite a difficult childhood in the old country, plagued by an older brother who hated him and drove him from home, he did not carry anger and bitterness with him to the new world. Although not as sharp and quick as his wife, he is kinder and more decent. Outgoing and friendly, he finds life at the nursing home refreshingly sociable and relaxed after his intense and confined life with Ellen.
Theresa Dooley is the product of Ellen’s coldness and indifference as a mother. A medical secretary and a charismatic Catholic, she poisons everyone around her with bitterness, anger, and jealousy. Believing she is blessed with the power to heal, she spitefully withholds this “gift” from her dying mother. Her children—John, a Vietnam veteran unable to hold a job or a marriage together; Sheila, an unlikeable,...
(The entire section is 494 words.)