Anna Federner, a middle-aged domestic servant, “the good Anna” who provides the title for the first of the three stories in the book. She is a hardworking and clean immigrant German woman who fills her life with service to others. Through caring, she exercises a measure of control over her employers, her dogs, and the young girls who are her assistants in the domestic sphere. Anna is not sophisticated or educated and is used by others because of her desire to be needed. She literally works herself to death being good to others.
Miss Mary Wadsmith
Miss Mary Wadsmith, Anna’s initial employer in Bridgeport. She is a large, fair, and helpless woman, trying to rear her brother’s orphaned children. She lets Anna make all the decisions that pertain to the family. She cannot control her niece, who, as she matures, challenges Anna’s control and drives her away.
Miss Mathilda, Anna’s second employer. She is a large, careless woman who needs Anna because Anna’s willingness to take over the entire domestic sphere frees her to pursue other interests. She listens to Anna’s problems and offers the kind of sympathetic understanding proper to a relationship based on class difference. Her interests finally take her to Europe (as the author’s own interests did), and Anna is left behind, totally bereaved.
Mrs. Lehntman, Anna’s friend and the only love of her life besides her dogs. She is Anna’s opposite in her easygoing approach to life and her failure to care about strict codes of behavior. She is a widow and a midwife who acquires an extra child without thinking about financial responsibilities. She borrows money from Anna and others that she cannot repay and appears to be involved in illegal activities with a local doctor. Although she always lands on her feet, she finally alienates Anna.
Melanctha Herbert, who is eighteen years old at the beginning of the second novella, which takes her name. She is somewhat older by the end of her adventures, when she dies, as do all...
(The entire section is 888 words.)