I need help finding the 5 most important characters from this book. please help.
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The following five characters would be my choice as the five most important. I would also add Nai Nai to the list because of her influence as the family's matriarch. Unfortunately, her influence ended with her death.
Adeline (Jun-Ling/Wu Mei)
Adeline is the fifth youngest of the Yen family and the protagonist of the novel. The book follows her childhood from the age of four to her departure to England in her early teens. Adeline is an outcast in the eyes of much of her own family, since her birth brought upon the death of her mother. Her inadvertent role in her mother's passing causes animosity between her and her older siblings and contributes to her father's apathy towards her.
Adeline maintains a very close relationship with her Aunt Baba and both her grandparents, turning to them for reason and comfort throughout her early years. Her Aunt's support combined with her father's brief flashes of approval lead Adeline to pursue academic excellence, leading to her outstanding performance in school and indomitable drive. Although her siblings and stepmother Niang often abuse her, Adeline attempts to overcome her problematic home life with her performance and community outside it.
Niang (Jeanne Virginie Prosperi)
Niang is the stepmother to Adeline and her four older siblings and the natural mother to 4th Younger Brother (Franklin) and Little Sister (Susan). Niang is married to Adeline's father one year after the death of Adeline's mother, at the age of 17. Father is very proud of his "French" wife, showing her off to friends and treating her to her every whim.
Niang establishes her as the de facto head of the household by the time the family moves to Beijing, setting a clear separation between her natural born children and her adopted ones. This leads to conflict with Father's first four children, with power imbalance and manipulation rendering the conflict toothless. The main dissenter to Niang's power is Adeline, who stands up against the injustices she perceives, unlike her other siblings. However, Adeline is still very much conscious of the power Niang holds over her Father.
While she outwardly expresses respect and deference to the natural head of the household, Ye Ye, for the sake of Father's feelings, their relationship is a frigid one. Likewise, she sees Aunt Baba as a threat, after an incident with Little Sister on the first night in Beijing, and does her best to remove her influence from the household. Niang's personality is fairly static throughout the novel, permanently the antagonist to Adeline's story.
Father (Joseph Yen)
Joseph is the father of Adeline and all of her siblings, referred to as "Father" throughout the novel. Affluent, intelligent, business savvy and ambitious, Father is seemingly ignorant of the feelings of others, particularly his children. Continually abandoning Adeline, ignoring the wishes of his own father, he appears to value only the opinion of his new wife Niang and an overwhelming drive to be materially successful.
However, his distinct aloofness can perhaps be traced back to the death of his mother, Nai Nai. After being away in Shanghai to establish a stable job, his first appearance after returning to Tianjing is distinct for his only outward display of emotion: Adeline notices his reddened eyes from mourning Nai Nai. This is not replicated again, not even at Ye Ye's funeral. Indeed, the aftermath of Nai Nai's death leads to a permanent severance with his Tianjing life, demanding that Aunt Baba burns all pictures of his first wife.
Adeline's relationship with her father stems from a desire for approval, based on his happiness when she earns distinction in her classes. Father's pride makes her feel like a member of the family, pushing her to succeed at academics. Although she notices his apathy towards her on occasion, Adeline's desire to please Father is very prominent in the novel.
Ye Ye is Adeline's grandfather on her father's side and the head of the household at the beginning of the novel. A devout Buddhist, Ye Ye maintains a moral compass unseen in the rest of the family. Working at the same company as his son, Ye Ye has a tight bond with him. Ye Ye is traditionally seen as the patriarch of the family, but his role is undermined by Niang's introduction to the family. While Ye Ye remains an influence within the household, it's primarily ceremonial, if that.
Ye Ye's relationship with his grandchildren is slight, except in the case of Adeline whom he views as "different." He supports her as best he can, telling Adeline that she has the talent to break out of her unfortunate cycle. In his later years, Ye Ye is visibly saddened by the state of his family and the behavior of his son.
The eldest daughter of Ye Ye and Nai Nai, Aunt Baba is described as "meek, shy and unmarried," wholly dependent on her younger brother--Adeline's father--financially. Tasked with taking care of Adeline, the two develop a close bond due to their position as the unwanted and powerless members of the family. Aunt Baba provides encouragement for Adeline to pursue her dreams, a decision that causes her to lose favor in the eyes of Niang.
A constant source of patience and rationality in the tumultuous world of this novel, her separation from Adeline furthers the latter's loneliness and forces her to become more self-reliant. Indeed, the dynamics between Aunt Baba and Adeline and Aunt Baba and Niang serve as the driving factors of the story.