The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ann Harrington epitomizes the preemancipated woman, completely dependent on her husband. Had Wayne not died, this very ordinary woman would probably have remained trapped in her husband’s shadow. Ironically, Wayne’s “eminence” was merely a construct of Ann’s—he was as empty a shell as she.

Madden conveys Ann’s deep feelings of worthlessness by detailing a grueling childhood incident during which Ann submitted sexually to a gang of boys. Ann’s apparent lack of shame reveals her well-developed defense mechanism. Madden implies that by cutting off and denying her true feelings, Ann has been able to minimize the painful experiences in her life.

Madden allows the reader to witness, partake, and rejoice in Ann’s growth. The scenes in the driver’s examination office are unforgettably written, sparse, yet vividly descriptive; the reader shares Ann’s intense determination to pass her driver’s test.

After teaching herself to drive in Wayne’s battered old car, Ann feels confident enough to take the test. Unfortunately, she is tested by an arrogant, ignorant, sexist police officer who barks impossible orders at her. After her fourth attempt, the officer directs her to a secluded dirt road and tries to blackmail her into performing a sexual act. Her refusal to succumb to him marks a real breakthrough for Ann. She is no longer willing to use her body to attain what she wants. When she does pass the test, it is on her own terms, and the victory belongs not only to Ann but also to everyone who has ever been intimidated and exploited by someone with power and authority.

Mark Harrington is a sensitive, imaginative...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ann Harrington

Ann Harrington, the protagonist, a housewife and mother of three small children. Having grown up in a Polish ghetto in Pittsburgh, Ann attended college only after being urged repeatedly to do so by her high school home economics teacher. At the University of Pittsburgh, she met and later married Wayne Harrington, her English professor. After Wayne commits suicide during a visit to his vacant family home in upstate New York, Ann returns to San Francisco, West Virginia, fearing that Wayne has abandoned her. When the news of his death reaches Ann, she finds herself unable to cope with her new status as the suicide’s wife. As she tries to make sense of her life without Wayne, Ann realizes that she was completely dependent on him to fix everything around the house and to make sure that the bills were paid; she cannot even drive Wayne’s dilapidated car. Ann starts to grow into an independent woman as she learns to make repairs around the house and as she begins to teach herself how to drive. She soon realizes that she knows very little about Wayne’s life. Turning to Max Crane, she learns that Wayne was not admired by his students or his colleagues at the university; in fact, he was regarded as a boring teacher. Ann comes to understand that if Wayne had not committed suicide, she would have continued to live her life in his shadow.

Max Crane

Max Crane, a poet and former colleague of Wayne Harrington....

(The entire section is 595 words.)