Cora Atkins, who is six feet tall, lean, and blonde, with an English complexion totally unsuited to the climate of the Great Plains. She moves from the East with her new husband to a farm in northeastern Nebraska. Her husband is always a stranger to her, and she to him. Firm and implacable, with her emotions always hidden, she is fenced off from others, epitomizing the isolated farm woman who finds grim satis-faction in the fact that her hard physical work is never done. Her marriage includes only one sexual act, which so horrifies her that she bites her knuckle to the bone. Cora is not a martyr, however; she is entirely self-sufficient. A limited woman with a limited life, she sets her own limits. Only once does her action go beyond her own control, when her niece Sharon outrages her so much that she strikes the girl’s hand with a hairbrush. Hers is the dominant voice in the book.
Sharon Rose Atkins
Sharon Rose Atkins, Cora and Emerson’s niece. Orphaned early, she is reared as a sister to her cousin Madge. Small, dark, and animated, she is almost the antithesis of either Cora or her daughter. She rebels against Cora’s restrictions and feels betrayed when Madge marries. As much an egotist as Cora, she escapes the rural Nebraska life through her music, first in Chicago, then later as a professor at Wellesley. It is only when she returns at Cora’s death that she understands and admires Cora for her independence and her ability to come to terms with her life.
Emerson Atkins, Cora’s husband. A silent plodder, the Nebraska homesteader is usually bewildered by life and by Cora. She sets the limits in their life; he accepts them. He balks at modern mechanization; he is not sure, for example, that chickens and cows will accept electric lights. His most memorable act is to run government men off his farm during...
(The entire section is 784 words.)