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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Narrator may be unnamed, but that doesn’t me there is not a wealth of clues as to the type of person he is. He is the spare to one of those New England clans that seems to exist only in literature and the movies, but must surely actually exist in reality somewhere. As the second born son, he enjoys a certain freedom to enjoy the distractions of his place in society: swimming and tennis, drinking and backgammon and the rough comfort that comes with realizing he need not have any pursue any great ambition because he is certain to fall short. He is a teacher at one of those elite New England prep schools, but has no ambition to become headmaster because he is far too weak and petty to ever get such a responsible position. In in the eyes of his younger brother, he is nothing less than a fool. In the eyes of the reader, he becomes a latter day Cain.
The Narrator’s younger brother is Lawrence, but is variously referred to as Tifty or Little Jesus. Lawrence steadfastly rejects the overachieving and overbearing character strain of the family. This rebellion is manifested in a concerted rejection of expectations that he become a lawyer and even more so by adopting a lifestyle far more concerned with utilitarian practicality than would be expected from a member of the Pommeroy clan. Another of those events which seems to occur only in literature is a great big deal of an annual gather of the clan and Lawrence’s first appearance at this party in some years is a central focus the story. Also worthy of note is that Lawrence is peculiarly described as a “changeling.”
The eldest sibling is known as Chaddy and it is ever uncertain for a moment that he is his mother’s golden child. Chaddy is also one of those guys that average people can quite easily take an instant dislike to: he’s clever, athletic and almost a backgammon prodigy. While the Narrator can get away by virtue of being the second son with a lack of ambition, this character trait—or flaw—doesn’t really fit quite as comfortably as on Chaddy, but since he appears to be successful in his chosen line of work, it's not quite as big a deal and it might otherwise be. His relationship with the Narrator is therefore one of meaningless rivalries, but Lawrence understand his oldest brother quite well, recognizing his innate dishonesty.
The only girl among three brothers, Diana has fled to France and shipped her two kids off to a Swiss boarding school in the wake of a divorce. Lawrence also intuits his sister’s basic character flaw and openly reprimands her promiscuity. Diana’s name is one of the story’s many allusions to mythological figures.
Another of those allusions is the name of the Narrator’s wife. Their more than ten years of wedded matrimony has may not have been entirely composed of bliss, but Helen can easily overlook her husband’s lack of drive and even seems resigned to accept that Lawrence may be right in his characterization of her husband as a fool. As for Helen herself, there is something of the image of a faded starlet dying her hair to remain young about her, but she is determined that there be nothing faded about the glorious romance that existed between bride and groom in their younger days.
Chaddy’s wife, by comparison, has the raven hair and pale complexion usually associated with vampires. In fact, Odette is almost obsessive about taking precautions to protect her complexion from the damaging rays of sunlight. She is also quite the flirt, which Lawrence interprets as being about promiscuous as his sister.
The mother of the three brothers and their sister was widowed after their father died in a boating accident. She seems the very model of those New England matriarchs that, once again, seem to show up only in fiction and at the Kennedy Compound: she is big on social decorum, a master at games played to while away her life, a heavy drinker and an unending supplier of advice that is usually ignored.
Lawrence’s wife. The reference here is not to mythology per se, but to the only woman with a book of the Bible named after her. Like her scriptural counterpart, Ruth is ready to make the sacrifices necessary for those who need it most.
Anna is the Polish immigrant hired as a cook for the summer at the Pommeroy’s beach house. Lawrence’s overzealous Marxist sensibility kicks into overdrive once he learns how little Anna is being paid for this job and that effort to raise the consciousness of the cook and convince her to join a union ultimately is met—as is often the case in these types of things—not with a welcome embrace of thanks for trying to improve her lot in life, but with a shove out the door and a warning to stay out her kitchen.
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