The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Alice is the folksy, down-to-earth matriarch who embodies and repeatedly reflects upon a key issue for Greer females: their stubborn self-sufficiency. From Alice’s mother Minerva Stamper (who ran a hog farm by herself) through Alice (who leaves two husbands) to Taylor (whose main goal in leaving Kentucky was to avoid the small-town girl’s common fate of early pregnancy), Alice sees her female line as holding so tenaciously to their independence that it is difficult for them to establish and sustain relationships—particularly with men. The reader, however, takes pleasure in watching Alice reach out to provide maternal support for Taylor, Turtle, and even Barbie. Once Alice arrives in Heaven, she plays the role of an observer from the white world who enables the reader to appreciate the rich human and spiritual interconnectedness of the Cherokee culture.

Taylor, the chief protagonist in the novel, earns the reader’s admiration for her independence, her pluck, and her devotion to her daughter Turtle. Early scenes involving the Hoover Dam incident establish the purity and power of this mother-daughter bond, as Taylor’s staunch belief in her daughter’s integrity enables her to prod disbelieving male officials into conducting a search for the accident victim her child has seen. Yet the reader also sees that Taylor’s admirable qualities have their shadow side. Her self-reliance takes her out on a dubious limb when she flees with Turtle, disregarding the...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Taylor Greer

Taylor Greer, a self-reliant young woman from a long line of independent women. Born and reared in rural Kentucky by a single mother, Taylor is also determined to make it on her own. Living contentedly in Tucson, Arizona, with her boyfriend and adopted daughter Turtle, managing an auto parts store, her comfortable existence is shattered when a Cherokee lawyer claims that Turtle was adopted illegally and that the tribe has a claim on her under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Unable to bear the thought of losing her daughter, Taylor flees with Turtle, traveling aimlessly until settling in Seattle, Washington. Trying to care for and support Turtle on her own, away from family and friends, she discovers that “doing it on your own” is not necessarily an asset and that asking for and needing help can be a virtue. Taylor loves Turtle enough, finally, to face the tribe’s claim on her, admitting that she needs the help of a larger community in rearing her daughter.

Turtle Greer

Turtle Greer, Taylor’s six-year-old adopted Indian daughter. Turtle’s alcoholic mother left her with an aunt before driving herself off a bridge, and the aunt, unable to protect the child from her abusive boyfriend, left her in the back seat of Taylor’s car and fled. Named for her perpetual vicelike grip on Taylor, Turtle is painfully shy and quiet, gradually overcoming the effects of horrendous physical and sexual abuse suffered before her adoption. When Turtle finally meets her Cherokee grandfather and remembers him, Taylor realizes that...

(The entire section is 645 words.)