An American Childhood


Annie Dillard

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Annie Dillard (Annie Doak)

While Annie Dillard (the narrator and author of the book) and young Annie Doak, the book’s protagonist, are the same person, it’s important to note that there is a clear difference between their presences on… read analysis of Annie Dillard (Annie Doak)


Annie’s mother is, like most other upper-class women she knew in Pittsburgh, a wife and mother without paid employment of her own. Although adhering to many of the social expectations of the family’s milieu, Mother… read analysis of Mother

Father (Frank Doak)

Annie’s father is also similar to many upper- and upper-middle-class Pittsburgh men: he works in business, believes in hard work, and his politics are somewhat conservative. He is logical and thoughtful, though he can also… read analysis of Father (Frank Doak)


Annie’s younger sister, Amy plays a somewhat peripheral role in Annie’s narration of her childhood. The two sisters spend a great deal of time together, but are often thrown together without their choosing, and as… read analysis of Amy

Oma (Meta Waltenburger Doak)

Annie’s paternal grandmother is an elegant, tall redhead. Oma is alluring to Annie in her willingness to chat about adult subjects and include Annie in her daily domestic traditions. But Annie is also aware of… read analysis of Oma (Meta Waltenburger Doak)
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Minor Characters
Annie’s youngest sister, she remains the “baby” of the family for almost all of Annie’s childhood. Born when Annie is ten years old, she is not present for most of the shared sister experiences that Annie and Amy have.
Frank Doak, senior
Oma’s husband, a jovial banker who remains inside smoking cigars and reading the newspaper during vacations. He dies while Annie is still in school.
Margaret Butler
The maid employed by Annie’s parents. She is black, and Annie’s neighbor Tommy calls her an offensive name when Annie is a child.
Tommy Sheehy
A rough-around-the-edges Irish Catholic boy who is Annie’s neighbor, Tommy insults Margaret Butler for her race, and, as a result, Annie’s mother forbids her from associating with him.
Jo Ann Sheehy
Tommy’s sister, and the subject of one of Annie’s most vivid memories: skating outside in the street one night during a cold spell.
Doc Hall
An old man who lives in the alley next to the Doaks’ first house.
Walter Milligan
A red-headed boy who is Annie’s first love.
Mikey Fahey
A neighborhood boy with whom Annie gets into trouble when they throw a snowball at a passing car’s windshield.
Mary Burinda
Oma and Frank Doak senior’s maid, who is light-hearted and cheerful and committed to her Catholicism despite Oma’s bemused reaction.
Henry Watson
Oma and Frank Doak senior’s cook and driver, who is polite and quiet.
Ellin Hahn
A popular girl in Annie’s class at school, who is excluded from Annie’s dancing class because she is half Jewish.
Amy’s friend and a neighbor of the Doaks.
Tibby’s older brother, who plays baseball in the neighborhood with Annie.
Pin (Barbara) Ford
A friend and neighbor of Annie’s who joins her in imaginative games.
Mr. Downey
Annie’s grandparents’ neighbor whose rock collection Annie inherits after he dies.
Judy Schoyer
A friend of Annie’s for years, whose parents are wealthy, well-educated, and highly cultured. Judy is less popular than Annie at school but Annie is enchanted by her confidence outside school, especially at her family’s country house in Paw Paw, West Virginia.
Mr. Schoyer
Judy’s father, who studied history and literature at Harvard and treats Annie as an intellectual equal.
A friend of Annie’s who goes to church and to dances with her.
Dr. Blackwood
The assistant minister at the church who meets with Annie when she “quits” the church.