Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

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General David Archbald

General David Archbald, an old Southern gentleman whose life is dominated by the needs of his daughters, his daughter-in-law, and his granddaughter. He is tall, spare, and very erect, with silver-gray hair and mustache, dark beetling eyebrows, and an eagle nose. Though a rebel at heart since childhood, he has throughout his long life been largely a conformist. He often muses on the past, on what might have been, and on the insoluble puzzles of human nature.

Jenny Blair Archbald

Jenny Blair Archbald, his spirited granddaughter, a pretty girl who from her childhood on listens to conversations and closely observes the older people about her. Fascinated by George, who at first regards her only as a charming child, she is the half-innocent cause of his murder.

George Birdsong

George Birdsong, the general’s neighbor, a handsome and romantically attractive but improvident attorney who loves his wife but cannot remain faithful to her. He tries to control his weaknesses, especially after Eva’s illness, but nature is too strong within him. Ironically, he dies after being discovered impulsively kissing Jenny Blair, to whose pursuit he had previously paid very little attention.

Eva Howard Birdsong

Eva Howard Birdsong, George’s beautiful wife, who, like a lady, affects a happiness she does not feel with her husband. She has smiled through her married life, realizing both George’s love and his inconstancy. She also endures her severe illness valiantly. Finding George and Jenny Blair in an amorous embrace in the Birdsong home is too much for her, and she shoots him.


Etta, the general’s frail, plain, and sickly daughter who desperately and vainly longs for love and must settle for its substitute by reading French novels.


Isabella, the general’s other daughter—strong, handsome, and magnetic—whose marriage to a man socially beneath her disappoints her father. The marriage, however, is a happy one.

Joseph Crocker

Joseph Crocker, a carpenter whom Isabella marries after breaking two engagements.

Bena Peyton

Bena Peyton, the plump girlhood friend with whom Jenny plans to go to New York.

Cora Blair Archbald

Cora Blair Archbald, Jenny’s mother, whose husband Richard died while fox hunting. She and Jenny live with the general.

John Welch

John Welch, Eva’s cousin, a doctor, whom Jenny hates because he seems to understand her better than she does herself.

Delia Barron

Delia Barron, one of George’s passing fancies.


Memoria, the Birdsongs’ mulatto laundress and one of George’s mistresses.


Erminia, the general’s dead wife, whom he married without love and with whom he lived faithfully but without real love for thirty years.

Erminia Crocker

Erminia Crocker, Joseph and Isabella’s young daughter.




Critical Essays