Nearly all of the major characters of the novel begin with a corruption of love before they proceed to a better love. Jack is a faithless womanizer, and it is not likely in the course of the novel that he experiences any great change; however, he at least resolves some of his relationships and responds to Eleanor. Giving up her undergraduate students, although perhaps not willingly, Eleanor tries to clarify past relations, particularly with Jack. Marlis begins as a parasitic lover, a person who needs to feel power over others, and although her relationship to Candice is exploitive, she is better to others because she is loved and cared for by Candice. Candice, a brittle woman with Jack, wary of her professional dignity, is fulfilled through love of Marlis and Marlis's child, the baby John. Dot is jealous about being loved by Jack, but her jealousy has little to do with love. She knows she still loves Gerry, even though they have been separated by his incarceration.

Good love in the novel desires to preserve life. Jack tries and eventually rescues his infant son, John. Candice begins her relationship to Jack by rescuing Pepperboy, a vicious dog that Jack was going to shoot. So unhappy is Candice about her inability to have children due to an early hysterectomy, she cannot stand the taking of life. Candice is seduced by Marlis's pregnancy, which she desires for herself. Thus Candice reaches out to a woman that her values would normally cause her to despise; she not only serves as a mother to Marlis's child but also to Marlis herself.

Eleanor's mother, Anna Schlick, lost a husband and child in a freakish accident at a circus while performing on the trapeze. Torn by loss, Anna seeks victories over death. When her house is on fire, she rescues Eleanor with circus agility. When a young fireman, Jack, is freezing to death, Anna is heroic in her efforts to keep him alive, even at the peril of losing her reputation, and temporarily, her...

(The entire section is 545 words.)