The Sweetness of Water Characters
The main characters in The Sweetness of Water are George Walker, Isabelle Walker, Caleb Walker, Prentiss, and Landry.
- George Walker is a Georgia landowner whose progressive sensibility puts him at odds with his community.
- Isabelle Walker is George’s wife, an intelligent and independent-minded woman.
- Caleb Walker is the Walkers’ son. He returns home after being thought killed in the Civil War.
- Prentiss is a formerly enslaved young man who dreams of creating a new life in the North with his brother.
- Landry is Prentiss’s brother, a kind-hearted man left scarred by the brutalities of slavery.
Last Updated on August 3, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1220
George Walker is Isabelle’s husband and Caleb’s father. He is a kind but idle landowner who has spent most of his life squandering the inheritance left to him by his father. After meeting Landry and Prentiss, George decides to stop selling off his acreage and instead use his land to farm peanuts.
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George gains confidence throughout the novel and becomes more selfless. He finds the courage to confront General Glass as he seeks to bring the Weblers to justice. And although he realizes that his health is failing, George insists on accompanying Caleb and Prentiss in their attempt to reach safety as they flee Old Ox. George’s last act is one of self-sacrifice: he points a gun at the sheriff and Wade to divert attention from his son and Prentiss. This proves successful, though George suffers a fatal wound because of his sacrifice.
Isabelle Walker is George’s wife and Caleb’s mother. Her independent spirit and sharp wit attracted George to her from the beginning. While other suitors were overwhelmed by Isabelle’s personality, George believed he had finally found his match when he first saw her. George’s admiration of Isabelle has never wavered over the years, and he thus finds it difficult to be emotionally vulnerable in her presence; this is a truth Isabelle discovers from a conversation with George’s mistress, Clementine.
Isabelle retreats into herself following the supposed death of Caleb, and even when he returns alive, she continues to live as if she is alone. Nevertheless, she remains steadfastly loyal to her husband, and when a group of women insult him at a dinner gathering, Isabelle storms out after verbally accosting the group. Isabelle is determined to honor the men she has loved and lost, creating a fountain for Landry and breathing new life into George’s burned peanut fields. She fearlessly faces a society which rejects her, pointedly hiring recently freed slaves and giving them a new start in life. She clings to hope while accepting life’s challenges.
Caleb Walker is Isabelle and George’s son. As the novel opens, he is presumed dead, but it turns out that Caleb deserted his Confederate troop in an attempt to save his own life. After returning home, Caleb tries to rekindle his romantic relationship with his childhood friend August; this effort fails, as August is more interested in feeling superior to Caleb rather than in any sense of genuine affection. Caleb’s idealization of August is transformed when he watches August beat Landry to death and finds himself too weak to intervene on Landry’s behalf. He eventually finds the courage to publicly denounce August as a murderer.
When Prentiss is imprisoned and Wade Webler calls for a speedy hanging, Caleb summons the tenacity to single-handedly free him. This makes Caleb a fugitive, and he is forced to flee the comforts of his home and family in an attempt to ensure Prentiss’s safety. In this decision, Caleb finds the determination which he has previously lacked in moments of difficulty. He recreates himself as an independent man who embodies the values of loyalty and justice.
Prentiss is a man who has recently been freed from enslavement on Ted Morton’s plantation. He and his brother, Landry, have no resources to make their intended journey to the North and thus accept George’s offer of temporary employment for fair wages. After Landry’s muder, Prentiss wants justice for his brother but struggles to be heard in his society, where bigotry against Black people is the norm. Indeed, he receives a harsh sentence after spitting in Wade Webler’s face. Prentiss longs for the connections of family, desperately hoping that he will find his mother and forging a brotherly relationship with Caleb.
Landry is Prentiss’s brother. He was beaten so severely throughout his childhood under slavery that he is mostly unable to speak as an adult. He can be seen as a Christ-like character, given his fundamentally kind and sacrificial nature. Landry is fascinated by water: its life-giving and transformative properties fuel a deep sense of wonder within him. Though he is strong and possesses an impressive stature, he refuses to defend himself and is murdered by August. His death unites the Walker family and Prentiss in their efforts to become agents of change within their society.
August is Caleb’s childhood best friend and eventual romantic partner, and he represents the brutality and injustice of traditional Southern society at the time of the Civil War. Just before enlisting in the Civil War, August became intimate with Caleb. Since their boyhood, August has insisted on demonstrating a dominance over Caleb, which often manifests physically. After realizing that Landry has seen him engaging in sexual acts with Caleb, August beats Landry to death without a hint of remorse. He later denies this and faces no penalties for his actions. This is when Caleb realizes the truth of August’s character, which abruptly ends their romantic relationship. When Old Ox catches fire, August runs out of the house but doesn’t attempt to save his new bride; his cowardice is such a disgrace that, at the novel’s close, he is reportedly moving to Savannah in search of a fresh start.
Wade Webler is August’s father and one of the most influential men in town. He understands how to use his resources to find favor with General Glass and Sheriff Hackstedde and therefore ensure that August faces no penalties for murdering Landry. He is deeply racist, and when Prentiss spits in his face for insulting Landry, Wade demands that a judge be brought to town immediately so that Prentiss can be hanged as quickly as possible. He loses his fortunes in the fire. In his arrogance, he failed to imagine that “such a sweeping loss” could touch him, and he gave no forethought to planning for such a disaster.
Mildred is a friend of Isabelle’s, and the two grow increasingly close throughout Isabelle’s various conflicts. When Isabelle believes Caleb has died, Mildred is the only person who successfully draws her out of her self-imposed confinement. Mildred is a widow with a frank personality, and she assists Isabelle in her efforts to share her property with those in need following George’s death.
Ezra was a close friend of George’s father and now works as a personal accountant. He helps George navigate various business transactions and also makes him aware that the town is turning on him because of his employment of Black men. Ezra is factual and direct, as he oversees the business affairs of many in town, including the Weblers.
Clementine is George’s paid mistress, with whom he shares a platonic relationship. George visits Clementine to discuss complex emotional issues, and she becomes a trusted friend. When Isabelle discovers the relationship, Clementine tells her that George respects Isabelle so much that he cannot be emotionally vulnerable with her. Clementine carries no shame regarding her employment and is a resilient and insightful woman.
Silas is Isabelle’s brother, and he travels to be with her during life’s difficult moments. He is a calm and steady influence, particularly in moments of great tragedy.