People Like That Are the Only People Here

by Marie Lorena Moore

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Last Updated on July 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

The Mother

The main character, or protagonist, of the story is a character simply referred to as "the Mother." She is a writer who has never felt particularly motherly; in fact, she describes her thoughts as often "unmotherly": she thinks thought about how often she has left her son with a babysitter, her complaints about the "degrading" nature of motherhood (e.g., words like "poopie" and the like), how she has used his bottles for flowers, let the wax build up in his ears, and even joked, "Healthy? I just want the kid to be rich." Now, though, she feels terrible guilt for her lack of maternal feelings, for her glib comments and innocent jokes. She never gets a name, perhaps because this experience has completely changed her; she becomes all mother, the Mother, as a result of her fear of losing her son. When a doctor asks her to autograph a book, it seems to take her a moment to figure out why he might be doing such a thing; it's like all the other parts of her identity fall away during this time.

The Husband

The Mother's husband and the baby's father remains nameless throughout the story. He is simply "the Husband," rather than "the Father." This difference seems to indicate that their child's illness does not strip him down to fatherhood in the same way that it pares the Mother's identity down to motherhood alone. She is never "the Wife." The difference between their roles is best summed up by the knowledge that the Husband takes a sleeping pill the night before their son's surgery, while the Mother stays up by herself, watching over the child and "leaping" up whenever the baby stirs.

The Baby

"The Baby" is never named. He is toddling by the time he develops renal cancer, a particular kind of tumor called a Wilms' tumor. Because the tumor is still small, he may be able to forego chemotherapy completely, a chance which the Mother calls their "lucky break" because she fears the chemo's effects on his brain development. For the Mother, he is simply and wholly the Baby, her baby, whom she tries to guide through this awful experience.

Minor Characters

Minor characters in the story include the Radiologist, the Surgeon, the Oncologist, the Anesthesiologist, and the video woman. They never get names, implying that their names don't matter to the protagonist. The Mother only concerns herself with the care her child receives and whether he gets better; the personal identities of other individuals are inconsequential to her. Interestingly, the other children in the Pediatric Oncology (or Peed Onk) ward are named, though they are not really characters. Their identities, as they fight their own diseases—winning or losing—seem important to the Mother. She may fear that her own child will become one of them, and so to her, their identities do matter.

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