The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters in The Woman Who Owned the Shadows serve largely as focal points for Ephanie as she examines her own pain and strives to take control of her life. The members of Ephanie’s family, namely her mother and grandmother and her children, are not developed characters. The short explanations of the love Ephanie’s grandmother held for her tribal ways, despite being shunned, in addition to her mother’s own feelings of isolation, provide the necessary background for Allen’s development of Ephanie as a woman divided from both mortal women and the goddess women in her life. Similarly, Elena’s character is not developed to any significant degree, but instead the childhood friend’s apparent betrayal of Ephanie confirms Ephanie’s blame of external forces and people for her own internal isolation.

In the same manner, the two men in Ephanie’s life provide stimulus for further examination of her internal dilemmas. Stephen is presented as a ghostly character. He is introduced during Ephanie’s initial mental desperation, the most disorienting and fragmented passage in the novel. That he is continually rejected by Ephanie, though he seems to be a consistently loyal friend, hints at the (eventually revealed) underlying mystery in Ephanie’s unhappiness.

Thomas, too, is only sketchily drawn. He is rejected by society because of his Japanese heritage, yet he is also deprived by that same society of his Japanese culture. His...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ephanie Atencio

Ephanie Atencio (EHF-uhn-ee ah-TEHN-see-oh), a woman who grew up among the Guadalupe Indians in New Mexico learning tribal stories from her grandmother. Because of her mixed racial background, she was never fully accepted by either whites or Native Americans. Her childhood friend Elena feels guilty about their closeness and deserts her. Ephanie’s other childhood friend, Stephen, also betrays her by invalidating her capabilities and her memories. It takes Ephanie a lifetime to remember the particular incident that sparked her change to a fearful, unhappy existence. When she was twelve years old, Stephen dared her to swing from a high tree, and the branch broke. She fell, breaking both her ribs and her spirit. Without understanding what she is doing, she acquiesces to the voices around her who urge her to be more ladylike, to be passive and silent. Ephanie’s first husband abuses and deserts her, leaving her with two children, Ben and Agnes. She moves to San Francisco, marries a Japanese American, suffers the loss of an infant son, and is divorced. She becomes absorbed in the history of the Native Americans and their systematic slaughter by whites. She sees that even those who romanticize or pity Native Americans perpetuate divisiveness and victimization. Increasingly, she feels isolated, fragmented, hopeless, and suicidal. What helps Ephanie regain a sense of self-worth and purpose are the old songs and stories from the women of the past. They show her that she is not alone and that she must do her part to pass on what she has learned.


Shimanna, called Sylvia by the whites, Ephanie’s maternal grandmother. She attended a mission school in Albuquerque and a school for Indians in Pennsylvania. She married a white...

(The entire section is 755 words.)