These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.
We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
Written by Timothy Sexton
The six year old boy through the eyes of which the events told in this novel are seen. The titular meeting with mortality belongs to the father of little Rufus and the events that radiate outward from that fateful event serve to become the tale of a journey from innocence to experience. As a young boy, however, the death of his father is for Rufus merely another in a seemingly endless series of mysteries about what it means to grow up. It is the piecing together of those random and apparently unconnected bits of evidence that transforms A Death in the Family into something of a cosmic detective story where the mystery that Rufus tries to solve is nothing short of explaining the weirdness of being alive. Rufus is an semi-fictonalized autobiographical portrait of the author.
Jay is the ill-fated father of Rufus. While on the way home after a trip to visit his own father, Jay is killed in a car crash. The cause of the crash is traced to a breakdown in the mechanics of steering, but as the novel progresses there are increasing hints that Jay was a man not averse to taking a drink now and then.
Deeply religious yet remarkably progressive in the arena of racial relations when such open-mindedness was rare indeed, the wife of Jay and mother of Rufus is genuinely caring and concerned. She shares her son’s sensitivity to the point of perhaps suppressing the full extent of her spiritual side to avoid contention with a husband not quite as willing to believe as she. The death of her husband has the effect of removing the obstacle of pressing religion onto her children, however.
Catherine is the younger sister of Rufus and her even more tender age makes her even less acutely aware of the full significance of what the death in her family actually means. The inexplicability of circumstances utterly beyond her capacity to make any sense of them may be the guiding principle behind the fact that she seems to be engaged in a constantly argumentative state with her brother.
The grandfather of Rufus and Catherine on their mother’s side, Grandpa does not suffer religious superstition any more than easily than he believes in marrying below one’s station. Unfortunately for him, he has a daughter who tests his patience on both these concerns. Nevertheless, Joel is a very supportive father who loves his grandchildren dearly.
Mary’s mother who seems to have passed her natural tendency toward kindness and sympathy down to her daughter. The ear trumpet she requires to offset her increasing hearing loss is just another of those strange mysteries of life that Rufus must piece together as he struggles to figure out what it all means.
Jay’s baby brother whose job as an undertaker seems especially suited to his curious lack of any positive life force. The negativity that presents Ralph as something of a figure mostly deserving of pity to the rest of the family is only enhanced by one of the few things he shared with his older sibling: a fondness for the sauce.
Mary’s equally religious aunt and brother of her father, Joel. Unlike her sibling and much like her niece, Hannan demonstrates a tendency toward patience and practicality.
Mary’s brother did not grow up to share his sisters’ religious devotion. In fact, he pretty exceeds their father’s disdain toward religious zeal by expressing a zeal toward opening ridiculing those who put their faith in such superstitions.
Father Jackson is exactly the sort of priest capable of creating agnostics like Grandpa Lynch and open hostility toward organized religion of the sort exhibited by Andrew. Upon first arriving at the Follet’s household, he directs his holy attitude toward her children by upbraiding their perceived rudeness. Soon thereafter he reveals even less capacity for what might be expected from a person basing their life upon turning cheeks and doing unto others by curtailing the burial ceremony on account of Jay never having received the rites of baptism.
In a sense, the undeveloped negative image of Father Jackson. Walter validates the friendship extended him by the Follets by exhibiting natural fondness toward Rufus and little Catherine and his bottomless patience for being willing to chauffeur anyone who asks around town whenever and wherever they require a lift.
The nursemaid who delivered Catherine Follet. Mary’s admonition to Rufus against mentioned that Victoria’s skin happens to be black is one of the subtle ways she attempts to reinforce her uncommonly progressive views turn of 20th century Tennessee.
Update this section!
You can help us out by revising, improving and updating