Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316
The sorrowful woman: The central character in the story is the sorrowful woman of the title, who is unable to function in her expected role of nurturing wife and mother. She becomes depressed and stops taking care of her spouse and her young son. She sits in a room and tries to escape her reality through reading novels and retreating into the past. She is a classic case of the "anger turned inward" characteristic of depression. That she is in reality very angry is indicated when she screams at the sight of her son, hits him, and then won't see him. There is also an aggressive quality to the manic nurturing she does at the end of the story when she bakes, knits, and creates solely for the sake of her husband and child. Her suicide is the ultimate act of angry withdrawal. It can be easy to miss her anger because of the gentle tone of the story.
The husband: The husband is almost super-humanly kind and understanding of his wife. He does everything he can to nurture and protect to her, as well as to keep the household running smoothly during her withdrawal. He is all gentle goodness. Significantly, however, he doesn't seem to ever ask her what she wants or try to find out who she is. He doesn't suggest changing the contours of their lives. He seems to be waiting for her to get "better" and resume her traditional role. He is overjoyed at the end when she seems to have done so.
The boy: The woman's son is three when the story opens. He suffers rejection from his mother but tries to stay connected to her.
The girl: When the wife shuts down, the husband hires a younger, not pretty, woman to assume her nurturing, housekeeper roles. The girl does this is an exemplary way until finally the wife fires her.
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