Leota is a beautician who works in a beauty parlor. Currently, her two main interests are her new tenant Mrs. Pike and the freak show next door. She is a gossiper who gives the customers what they want, according to the beauty parlor's motto, which includes a smooth talk, a weekly permanent, or even a beauty treatment on the same day a woman is about to give birth. Being superstitious, she visits a fortune teller to inquire about her future and is committed to get what the fortune teller has predicted. She seems to make fast friends, such as Mrs. Pike, but is easily miffed by their greater fortune. Leota has a thick Southern accent and uses a colloquial register, as indicated by her frequent grammar and syntax errors. Her name means "of the people," which indicates that her character is a reflection of the common people—in this case, the people living in Mississippi and the Southern states in general.
Mrs. Fletcher is one of Leota's regular customers. Visiting her once a week, she likes to gossip with Leota about other people, but becomes defensive and irritated when she realizes her secret pregnancy is the talk of the town. She dismisses everything Leota mentions and even starts to despise having a child of her own. She is prone to pettiness, and tries to make herself seem like a superior person to Mrs. Pike, a woman whom she hears much about and is clearly jealous of. She also enjoys the feeling of schadenfreude, as her mood lightens when she hears about Leota's misfortune and Mrs. Pike leaving town. Her name means "maker of arrows," which could make her a representative of people trying to ruin the happiness of others.
Mrs. Pike is Leota's tenant. She is an attractive, 33-year-old beautician from New Orleans, and at first, Leota admires her greatly and is proud of their fast friendship. She seems to have much in common with Leota, particularly her love for freak shows and her antipathy towards her husband. Mrs. Pike is very observant, which causes Mrs. Fletcher to hate her for noticing her burgeoning baby belly and telling people about it, and eventually leads to Leota hating her for identifying a rapist in a magazine that she found in Leota's house and receiving a $500 reward for it. Because of the money, she, her husband, and her son are due to leave town again soon.
The Petrified Man
The petrified man is an actor in a freak show next to Leota's beauty parlor. It is said that whatever he eats turns into stone, so he cannot move much. Leota is fascinated by him until she learns from Mrs. Pike that he, actually Mr. Petrie, has raped four women and is wanted by the law. Mrs. Pike and her husband know Mr. Petrie from when they roomed at an apartment building with him, and Mr. Pike seemed to have liked him quite a bit.
Billy is Mrs. Pike's spunky three-year-old son, who roams the beauty parlor when she is at work. He gives witty and sarcastic remarks while Leota and Mrs Fletcher are talking, which leads to their spanking him. In the end, he angrily runs out of the beauty parlor, and his last mocking words echo in the women's ears.
Fred and Mr. Fletcher
Fred and Mr. Fletcher are the husbands of Leota and Mrs. Fletcher. The women talk about both of them and dismiss them as lazy and passive. Not appearing in the story, we know little else about them.
She is the mind reader at the freak show who tells Leota that she was right not to marry her old sweetheart. She tells Mrs. Pike that her husband is true to her and will come into some money soon.
She is another beautician at Leota's salon.
She is a client of Thelma's whom Mrs. Fletcher assumes is the one telling people she is pregnant.
Petrified Man Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Petrified Man is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.