The narrator and protagonist of "Feathers." He is married to Fran, in a pleasant but safe marriage until after their experience with Bud and Olla. He is friends with Bud from work.
Jack's wife in "Feathers." Though a seemingly unpleasant and judgmental woman, Fran is momentarily changed through the experience at Bud and Olla's, so much so that she changes her mind about wanting to have a child.
Jack's friend from work in "Feathers." Bud is married to Olla and lives with her out in the country. He is extremely friendly, and very sweet and playful with his wife. This stands in stark contrast to the relationship between Jack and Fran.
Bud's wife in "Feathers." She is an eccentric woman – she has kept a model of her teeth and displays it on the TV, and she prizes the peacock despite its strangeness. Though stranger than Jack and Fran, she is extremely friendly. Her strangeness is part of what affects Jack and Fran so strongly.
Bud and Olla's peacock, in "Feathers." Large, beautiful, and strange. Joey serves as a symbol for the adventurous, strange life that so affects Jack and Fran.
Bud and Olla's baby in "Feathers." An extremely ugly baby. Jack finds it notable that his parents adore him despite his looks.
The narrator and protagonist of "Chef's House." She is a recovering alcoholic, and before accepting her husband Wes's invitation to live at Chef's, has been separated from him for a long time. She is jaded and cynical but allows herself to grow optimistic through the story. Her optimism is not rewarded.
Edna's husband in "Chef's House." A recovering alcoholic with a mean streak, Wes gets the chance to live in his friend Chef's house for the summer, and invites Edna to join him. Though he is happy for the summer, his optimism fades almost immediately when he learns he has to leave Chef's.
Wes's friend in "Chef's House." A recovering alcoholic like Wes, he offers Wes his home for the summer, which helps Wes and Edna to feel happy for a while. He ultimately asks Wes to leave when his daughter Linda needs the house.
Chef's daughter in "Chef's House." Referred to as Fat Linda by Wes. Though she never appears, her circumstances are what forces Chef to ask Edna and Wes to leave.
The protagonist of "Preservation." Sandy is concerned through the story about her husband's unemployment and his lack of motivation to leave the couch. She is characterized by her ability to take action – both in keeping a job and in wanting to replace the broken fridge – in contrast with her husband, who remains inactive.
From the story "Preservation." He has been fired before the story begins, and spends his days on the couch, doing almost nothing. He is characterized by severe inaction, and is compared implicitly to the "frozen man," a man who was found preserved in ice after centuries.
The protagonist of "The Compartment." Myers is traveling by train through Europe to reunite with his son. He has not seen the boy in eight years. He is a successful engineer who lives a lonely life in order to keep a distance between himself and his angry past, but he realizes through the story that he still has the same anger and resentments inside.
In "The Compartment," he has asked Myers to come visit him in Europe, where he is studying abroad. He and Myers have not seen one another for eight years, and their last meeting was violent. Though his letters suggest he is sincerely desirous of reconnecting with Myers, Myers realizes through the story that he does not share such sincerity.
The man in Myers's compartment
A foreigner who shares Myers's first class compartment in "The Compartment." Myers cannot understand him, and suspects him of stealing a watch from Myers's coat pocket. Myers's distrust and contempt for the man helps characterize how little Myers knows how to manage himself around others.
The young man
A young lover who leaves his girlfriend on the train platform in "The Compartment." Myers's fascination with their affection is in contrast to his misanthropy. The young man ends up in Myers's compartment, before Myers leaves and is separated from the first class car.
The dark-skinned men
The inhabitants of the second-class car where Myers ends up stranded in "The Compartment." They invite him into their jovial discussion, and he sleeps for the first time. Their anonymity helps illustrate how little Myers wants to be connected to anyone in his life.
The mother in "A Small, Good Thing." She lives a comfortable, easy life and feels blessed before her son Scotty is hit by a car and hospitalized. The tragedy forces her to confront her helplessness and to rely on her husband and ultimately, the baker who she otherwise vilifies.
The father in "A Small, Good Thing." He lives a comfortable, easy life and feels blessed before his son Scotty is hit by a car and hospitalized. He wants to stay rational about Scotty's recovery to keep his grieving wife under control, but is only sporadically able to mange such rationality.
The son in "A Small, Good Thing." A sweet kid who spends most of the story unconscious after being hit by a car. He dies in the story.
For most of "A Small, Good Thing," a villainous figure. He is curt and unfriendly when Ann first orders Scotty's birthday cake from him, and then makes ominous phone calls to their home after the boy's injury prevents them from picking up the cake. In the final scene, he reveals himself to be deeply lonely and conflicted, and becomes a restorative figure for the grieving parents.
The hit-and-run driver
He hits Scotty with his car in "A Small, Good Thing." After watching the boy stand, he drives away. He helps illustrate the theme of people separated from one another.
Scotty's doctor at the hospital in "A Small, Good Thing." While devoted to helping Scotty recover, he seems somewhat distant from the parents until after Scotty unexpectedly dies, at which point he becomes effusive in his apologies.
Nurses and Orderlies
There are several nurses and orderlies in "A Small, Good Thing" who show various degrees of concern for Scotty. However, their anonymity helps to express how alone Ann and Howard feel in their grief.
A radiologist in "A Small, Good Thing." He is dressed casually when he comes to bring Scotty for some tests. He is one of several figures whose professional distance makes Ann and Howard feel alone in their grief.
An African-American family in "A Small, Good Thing." They are waiting in the hospital waiting room to find out whether their son Franklin will survive surgery after being injured as a bystander in a knife fight. Ann meets them and feels connected to them through the similarities in their situations, even though they have little to say to one another.
The narrator of "Vitamins"
An unnamed speaker. An unpleasant alcoholic married to Patti. He is extremely detached from his life and works a dead-end job working maintenance as a hospital on the graveyard shift. He attempts to seduce Patti's employee Donna, to no avail. His lack of emotional connection to others illustrates the theme of a lack of options in life.
The narrator's wife in "Vitamins." She manages a door-to-door vitamin sales operation, and is quite successful with it. She is an alcoholic like her husband. Her only friends are her employees, Donna and Sheila. Her marriage with the narrator seems loveless, and she seems desperately unhappy.
One of Patti's vitamin saleswomen in "Vitamins." The narrator has the "hots" for her, and after some flirtation on the night of the Christmas party, they go out together for what comprises the main action of the story. Like the other women, she wishes for something else but doesn't know how to find it.
One of Patti's vitamin saleswomen in "Vitamins." She confessed love for Patti one night, which Patti kindly repudiated. On the night of the Christmas party, after everyone but she and the narrator are asleep, she and the narrator fight, and she tells him she wants to leave for Portland. Noone sees her again.
In "Vitamins," the bar owner of the Off-Broadway, the "spade" (African American) bar that the narrator sometimes frequents after work. Khaki is a big man and tends to proactively stop conflicts solely through his presence.
A patron of the Off-Broadway, in "Vitamins." He and the narrator have been friendly in the past, but he is a bit of an antagonistic force in the story's action by forcing Nelson onto the narrator and Donna.
In "Vitamins," a veteran recently returned from Vietnam and clearly a bit unhinged from his experience. Benny brings Nelson to the narrator and Donna, and Nelson is extremely aggressive in hitting on Donna. His antagonism is threatening and forces them to leave.
The narrator and protagonist of "Careful." He is a full-fledged alcoholic and has recently separated from his wife, Inez. He is living in an attic apartment and suffers from a stopped-up ear in the story. He wants a change in his life but does not have the strength to make it happen.
Lloyd's wife in "Careful." They are separated from one another, seemingly due to his alcoholism. She visits the attic apartment where Lloyd is staying, and helps him address his stopped-up ear. There are signs in the story that she has perhaps begun to move on from their marriage.
The old woman who owns the apartment Lloyd rents in "Careful." She is an old lady. She lends Inez some Wesson oil to help her address his stopped-up ear.
The narrator of "Where I'm Calling From"
A recovering alcoholic and current resident of Frank Martin's drying-out facility. He wants very much to get better but faces competing desires. Through the story, he reflects on his past with both his wife and his girlfriend. He attempts not to think about his problems but can't help it and, at the end of the story, makes a subtle commitment to moving forward with recovery by facing himself.
The owner and manager of a drying-out facility for recovering alcoholics in "Where I'm Calling From." A kind and supportive figure for these alcoholics, but also a firm one who keeps his residents in line. He is "someone who knows the score," as the narrator says.
A resident of Frank Martin's in "Where I'm Calling From." Much of the story consists of J.P.'s story, which he tells to the narrator. J.P. is a chimney sweep who has lost his job and endangered his marriage to Roxy through his drinking. He and his wife have grown violent with one another.
J.P.'s wife in "Where I'm Calling From." A former chimney sweep and member of a family of chimney sweeps. Her marriage with J.P. started romantically but has devolved due to his drinking. She and J.P. have grown violent with one another.
Roxy's Father and Brother
The men who brought J.P. to Frank Martin's in "Where I’m Calling From." Both chimney sweeps. They initially opposed Roxy's marriage to J.P. but came to accept him until his drinking got bad.
A fat resident of Frank Martin's in "Where I'm Calling From." He is a joker, and was slated to return home from the facility before New Year's, but ended up staying after having a seizure. His misfortune worries the narrator, since the same could happen to him at any time.
The narrator's wife in "Where I'm Calling From"
Though she never enters the action, the narrator's wife is a huge force in his life and memory. He was responsible for ruining their relationship, and wants to be back in touch even though last time they spoke, they fought. His memories of her are pleasant.
The narrator's girlfriend in "Where I'm Calling From"
Though she never enters the action, the narrator's girlfriend is a huge force in his life and memory. He lives with her and her "mouthy, teenaged son" and has been out of touch since she dropped him off at Frank Martin's. Both were drunk after a bad bender following some bad news from a doctor. The narrator has avoided calling her, afraid to hear more bad news.
The main character of "The Train." Context suggests she is mentally unbalanced (she is taken from a story by John Cheever), but even in this story, she has nearly committed an act of violence by holding a gun on a man earlier in the evening. She waits in the train station with the man and woman who come in. She has a gun in her handbag and it keeps her nervous.
The man in "The Train"
A shoeless older fellow who waits with the women and Miss Dent for the late-night train. He is dressed nicely, and wants very much to find a match to light his cigarette.
The woman in "The Train"
A middle-aged woman who waits with the older man and Miss Dent for the late-night train. She is dressed nicely, and is drunk, loud and mildly confrontational throughout the story.
The protagonist of "Fever." Carlyle needs to find a dependable babysitter since his wife Eileen has run off, and finds her in Mrs. Webster. He is an art teacher at a high school, and is unable to come to terms with the difficulties he faces since Eileen ran away. He is full of anger, resentment and sadness, but can't express his true feelings until the fever and Mrs. Webster help him.
Carlyle's wife in "Fever." She has run away to California to be an artist, and speaks using new-age terminology. She calls often and professes concern for Carlyle and the kids, though he refuses to acknowledge that she truly cares.
Carlyle's former colleague from the high school in "Fever." A drama teacher who Eileen ran away with. He has encouraged her to "make art."
The first babysitter in "Fever." Carlyle finds her through an ad posted at the grocery story. He comes home early one day to find the kids alone outside, and Debbie hosting a party with other teenagers inside. He fires her.
Carlyle's girlfriend in "Fever." She is the secretary at his high school. Though she tries to support and comfort him in his troubles, she has her own responsibilities with her own child at home. She encourages Carlyle to open up.
A boy and girl in "Fever." They seem extremely sweet and are no trouble, but are a presence in his life that leads to great stress since he can't find a trustworthy babysitter.
The old woman Eileen suggests Carlyle use as babysitter in "Fever." She is a comforting presence, extremely kind, and competent. Not only is she helpful with the kids, but she takes care of Carlyle when he grows sick, and inspires him to share his feelings.
Mrs. Webster's husband. An elderly fellow who drives a big, loud truck. A quiet man.
The narrator of "The Bridle." She works as superintendent of an apartment building along with her husband Harley. She is extremely lonely, though she never admits it. She also cuts hair for extra cash. Her experience with the Holits family almost leads her to confront her unhappiness, but she lacks the strength to make a change. For a first person narrator, she shares very little of her past.
Marge's husband in "The Bridle," and superintendent of the apartment building alongside her. Laconic, distant, and mean. He seems to have little interest in Marge.
A farmer from Minnesota who relocates with his family to Marge's apartment building in "The Bridle." He lost his family's money through horse betting, and ends up hurting himself terribly through a drunken stunt that ultimately forces the family to relocate again.
The wife and mother of the Minnesota family who relocates to Marge's apartment building in "The Bridle." She begins to work two shifts at a nearby restaurant, and though unhappy, is resigned to life's unfairness. Marge sees in her a potential friend, but Marge never pursues it outside of their one experience together, when Marge fixed her hair. Marge's inability to fully befriend Betty speaks to her detachment.
The boys in "The Bridle"
Holits's boys and Betty's step-kids. They spend most of the summer in Marge's apartment swimming in the pool, and then go to school once the academic year begins.
The nickname for Irving Cobb in "The Bridle." A resident of Marge's apartment building. A Denny's cook who spends most of his free time by the pool. He has recently remarried but seems to still spend much time thinking of his deceased wife, based on his comments during the family pictures he shows Marge and Harley. He is one of the guests who encourages Holits to attempt the jump that cripples him.
A resident of Marge's apartment building who spends most of her free time by the pool. She initially moved in with an alcoholic lawyer but now lives with a college student. One of the guests who encourages Holits to attempt the jump that cripples him.
The narrator of "Cathedral"
An unhappy, glib, and judgmental man who undergoes an epiphany through Robert's guidance. He is in a seemingly unhappy marriage, and spends most nights drinking and smoking marijuana. He has no friends. Though he shows little concern for others (outside judging them), he has a feeling of freedom in drawing the cathedral in the story's final scene.
The narrator's wife in "Cathedral"
A woman who aspires to be a poet and relishes her deep friendship with Robert, the blind man. Her husband is flippant with her and uninterested in her pursuits.
The blind man in "Cathedral." A man interested in travel and "learning new things." An old friend of the narrator's wife, and still grieving from his wife Beulah's death. He has a spiritual side and helps the narrator experience a spiritual epiphany when they draw the cathedral together.
Robert's dead wife in "Cathedral." Though she never enters the action, her death is what brings him East, where he then visits the narrator and his wife. The narrator is extremely harsh and judgmental about what her life must have been like as the wife of a blind man.
Cathedral Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Cathedral is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The narrator's epiphany involves the ability to look at the world from a new and different perspective. He comes to see that his own tunnel vision, or tendency to only see things his own way, has limited and isolated his view of the world around...
In drawing the cathedral, the narrator (husband) comes to understand what it means to see below the surface..... to truly see the things around him and embrace what is inside of him. Art has opened his world, and I believe the changes will be...