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 Katherine Li
Mathilda "Mattie" Gokey
Mattie, who is the narrator and heroine of this novel, is a feisty and intelligent sixteen year old with strong morals and ambition. Her mother have passed away and her older brother left, so she lives with in her father's farm with her three younger sisters, Abby, Lou, and Beth. Mattie loves reading and writing and has exceptional talent for literature. Having promised to her mother than she will get an education, despite her father's strong objections, she is determined to leave behind the constraints life in the frame has been put on her and to follow her aspirations. Mattie refuse to conform to the traditional standards imposed upon females of that time, and also rejects Royal, a boy who seeks to marry her, due to his expectation for her to be like the other girls. Eventually, even though she feels guilty for abandoning her family, Mattie still makes the courageous decision to leave the North Woods to go to Barnard College in New York City, knowing that taking this risk will bring her a brighter future .
Weaver, who is the only African-American boy in the entire areas, is Mattie's best friend. Just like Mattie, Weaver is intelligent and ambitious. He has great talents for mathematics, and is a source of inspiration and encouragement to Mattie. However, he is frustrated by Mattie's affection towards Royal because he thinks that Royal is dull and shallow. Aiming to attend Columbia University, he works at the Glenmore Hotel to save up the money he needs for his education. Weaver's mother is extra supportive of his ambitions, and he never lost sight of his dreams despite how little the society has to offer him due to his race. In the end when Mattie left North Wood, he received enough money from her as a parting gift to purchase a ticket to college.
Miss Wilcox is Mattie's teacher and mentor who has assisted and encouraged her to attend Barnard College. Most people do not like her and think of her as strange. She writes unconventional feminist poetry that supports women's rights, which is a very sensitive topic during that time. She believes in the power of literature to affect people's lives and seeks to be a feminist role model although these actions can potentially endanger her. Authorities have burned and condemned her controversial writings, while her husband disapproves of her work and tries to get her committed. Eventually, Emily flees to Paris and does not return.
Royal is a very handsome boy, but has an uninteresting and dull character. He is unfriendly towards Emmie Hubbard and her children due to the fact that his father treats Emmie better than his own family members, Many girls like him, including Mattie, even though she knows that he only pursue her because he wants the extra farmland that will come with their marriage. While he has done nice things for Mattie's family, he does not understand Mattie's love for books and knowledge, and in a failed attempt to please her, once gave her a cook book as a birthday gift. He wants a conventional wife who would cook, clean, have numerous children, and put family first, which does not suit Mattie's character. Even though Mattie initially accepted his marriage proposal, she still gave the ring back to him when she left for New York.
Emmie is a widow, and is considered to be the most desirable women in the village. She has seven children, but most of them came from different fathers. At first, she is poor from not knowing how to make money and not managing her household well. She has an intimate relationship with Frank Loomis, Royal's father, and her children even often go around the village begging for food. But later on in the novel, with the help of Weaver and his mother, Emmie reforms and makes money from farming and selling food along with her children.
Michael is Mattie's father. He is strong, steadfast, and stoic, just the way men are expected to be at that time. After the death of his wife and the departure of his son, he is in constant grief yet unable and unwilling to let his true emotions show. He sacrificed his life at the river, a job he is passionate about, in order to return to the farm to take on his family responsibilities. He is constantly concerned with earning money out of the farm, and to a large extent relies on the presence of Mattie to fill the void his wife and son have left. However, his preoccupation with the farm also shut him off from actually knowing his children, thus emotionally alienating them from him. Readers are led to be sympathetic towards this character as we witness his physical and emotional struggle.
Minnie is Mattie's girl best friend. At the beginning of the novel, she is blissfully married to an adoring husband and is pregnant. However, after a traumatic experience giving birth to twin babies, she sinks into serious post-partum depression and is in a bad condition when Mattie went to visit her. She represents the path that Mattie could potentially take, which is to become a housewife and bear children. Despite envying her ideal marriage at the beginning, Mattie eventually decides that she does not want to make the same choice Minnie did.
Update this section!
You can help us out by revising, improving and updating