The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Miriam Berg and Beth Walker share the protagonist’s role in the novel. Piercy painstakingly characterizes both women, allotting each a section in which enough of each woman’s adolescence is chronicled to allow the reader to find cause and effect in her family life and class background relative to her adult personality. Piercy’s approach to characterizing Beth and Miriam is to derive them from their fictional but representative childhood environment (family life in the United States of the 1950’s and the 1960’s), which automatically creates conflict, since that environment was essentially hostile to women. The two women’s parents share the conventional assumptions about female children, victimizing their daughters by their neglect of the individual in the girl.

Piercy endows both the young Beth and the young Miriam with considerable intellect and insight, which enable them to perceive the repression in their upbringing. Nevertheless, both women undergo a slow and painful process before they even begin to realize the extent of the psychic damage that has been done to them—and, by extension, to most women.

With Beth, Piercy illustrates active progress toward liberation. Beth’s development as a character is symbolic of many women’s enlightenment and of their slow but steady growth toward self-love and love of women (not necessarily in lesbian relationships only but also through appreciation of the qualities and strengths of women in...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Beth Phail Walker

Beth Phail Walker, a high-school graduate who works as a secretary in Boston. Slight, quiet, and introverted, she is an omnivorous reader and a perceptive observer of her surroundings. Made to feel inferior by the traditional expectations of her family and husband and trapped in an early marriage with no possibility of attending college, she runs away, finds a job and room of her own, and audits classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Encounters with Miriam Berg and communal life lead to a series of “small changes.” She becomes a vegetarian, forms a women’s commune, gets a divorce, and works intensely in women’s theater. In her liaison with its leader, Wanda Rosario, she acquires political awareness, speaks out, and discovers her sexuality and the joys of physical labor. Forming a lesbian family with Wanda brings her fulfillment.

Miriam Berg

Miriam Berg, a graduate student and researcher in computer science. She is an intelligent young Jewish woman with glossy black hair; she is full-bodied, vivacious, and outgoing. She pours her considerable energies equally into her academic studies and her stormy love relationship with Phil. Her search is for the love and support missing during her Flatbush years as a fat teenager with braces and thick glasses. The experiences of college in Wisconsin, the ordeal of her mother’s slow death, and her sexual awakening with Phil and Jackson give her self-confidence and new goals. Frustrated, however, by the transitory nature of communal life and the sexism that impedes her academic life and professional work at Logical Systems Development, she finds temporary security in marriage to Neil Stone and motherhood. That role fails to satisfy her energy. Her desire to reenter the job market and...

(The entire section is 741 words.)