Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158
Beverley Lacey, the proprietor of the Seven Stars coal mine in Lacey Creek, West Virginia, and descendant of the family that originally settled and controlled this entire mining district. During his lifetime, he has seen his family give up first the mineral rights and then the...
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Beverley Lacey, the proprietor of the Seven Stars coal mine in Lacey Creek, West Virginia, and descendant of the family that originally settled and controlled this entire mining district. During his lifetime, he has seen his family give up first the mineral rights and then the land itself to wealthy entrepreneurs who in turn have remitted it to faceless corporations and holding companies. He has also seen the relationship between owner and laborer deteriorate from cooperative to adversarial. He has been broken by the process, physically and emotionally. Although merely forty-two years old, he is on his deathbed; he will not survive the year. He also believes that he has failed his wife and family; he has not maintained the aristocratic ideals that he inherited from his parents, and he fears that his family members will not be able to protect themselves in this altered world after his death. Furthermore, he is aware of both the injustice inflicted on the mine workers by the managerial class and the propaganda manipulation of the union organizers. Although he would like to rise above the pettiness and stupidity of what he perceives as a staged conflict, he feels compelled to install a Gatling gun on his front porch to protect his family. Worst of all, he feels intensely about nothing.
Ann Eldridge Lacey
Ann Eldridge Lacey, Beverley’s wife, around forty years old. From a relatively common background, she “married up” when she wed Beverley, and she is determined to maintain the family eminence, even when everything is crumbling around her and her dreams of grandeur are evaporating. She attempts this task by bullying Beverley into taking stands on preserving the status quo. Because these stands are basically ineffectual, he resents her interference and has withdrawn from her emotionally. To compensate, she has developed migraines that she doses with laudanum. She is aware that her husband is dying, although he has not told her so, and she is desperate to secure her future and that of her daughters.
Lily Lacey, who at nineteen years of age is the eldest daughter of Beverley and Ann. Idealistic and intellectual, she commits herself completely to the concept of social reform and the elevation of the working class. This makes her see everything as either black or white and people as either heroes or villains. For example, as a typical gesture she “adopts” one of the sons of a family of migrant Italian laborers, a young man her own age but lacking her privileges. She is determined to compensate for his disadvantages by educating him herself: She reads her textbooks from Vassar to him every day of her vacation. Well versed in her ideas of the evils of capitalism, she attempts to join the miners’ strike but is rebuffed. Later, she serves as a military nurse during World War I.
Althea Lacey, who is sixteen years old, the second daughter of Beverley and Ann. The antithesis of Lily, Althea is carnal and sensual, driven by her body and her selfish urges. Completely self-centered, she is incapable of appreciating any motives larger than personal ones. Thus, during a period that subjects family, neighborhood, community, economy, and society to unprecedented tests, she remains preoccupied with her romance of the moment. Although she marries well—from a conventional social point of view—she ends up a drunken degenerate.
Mary Rose Lacey
Mary Rose Lacey, the third Lacey daughter, who is fifteen years old. Recognizing the shortcomings of both of her sisters, she is able to avoid their extremes, but that does not necessarily result in success. She has a practical focus that both of her sisters lack, but she is without either Lily’s sophisticated understanding or Althea’s intuitive insight into personal motives. She has the resilience of a young girl, but this resilience is sorely tested by the events to which she is exposed, and she is not able to grow through them.
Jake Catlett, a friend from boyhood of Beverley and a descendant of another founding family; he is in his early forties. Because he lost out in an earlier round of mineral-right transactions, he is on the side of the striking miners in this labor dispute and is their leader. Like Beverley, he is uncomfortable with this new world of impersonal negotiation; unlike Beverley, he recognizes and accepts that things change. Both men remain good at heart and do what they can to avert the impasse that will result in tragedy, but their sense of futility shows that the situation is beyond their control, or that of any individuals. He differs most from Beverley in his holding some hope for the future and for the role of individuals.
Essie Catlett, Jake’s wife, in her early forties. Although she is from the same background as Ann Eldridge, she has experienced a very different adulthood. To make ends meet, she has spent twenty years “helping out” in the Lacey family’s kitchen; originally, she was Ann Eldridge’s closest friend. She deeply resents this social differentiation. Plain and practical, she knows trouble is at hand and also knows which side she is on.
Eduardo Pagano, the twenty-year-old son of an immigrant Italian family. The Italians, brought in to work the mines when the native population balked, have been segregated, like the other minorities, until the present strike. Now solidarity is drawing them together, but Eduardo, inspired by Lily’s dreams, is determined to rise above them. Accordingly, he is singled out for retaliation by the thugs hired by the mine owners.
Neville St. Michael Roundtree
Neville St. Michael Roundtree, an English-born superintendent of the Mark Hanna Coal Company, in his early thirties. Appointed by the directors to run the operation as efficiently as possible, Roundtree finds that his duties include a confrontation in which he has to deny his sympathies for the men. His only alternative is to quit, which is equivalent to giving up his career.
Daniel Neill, a descendant of another founding family, in his early twenties. Forced to leave Princeton after his father kills himself and after his grandfather, a U.S. senator, is convicted of fraud, Neill is attempting to retrieve the family fortunes by serving as captain of the army of guards that is securing the mines and locking out the strikers. He sees himself as a leader, but he does not understand the situation, and his frustration leads him to take rash actions.
Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer, who at eighty-two years of age is on one of her last missions. Long experienced in such confrontations, she single-mindedly choreographs the actions of the laborers and their families for greatest emotional impact. Tough, clever, and articulate, she knows the legal limits of her position and attempts to avoid bloodshed, though she is willing to use it—or anything—to her advantage.