The Leavers

Kay Wilkinson Character Analysis

Daniel’s adoptive mother. A professor of Political Science at Carlough College, Kay tries hard to give Daniel the support he needs. Like her husband Peter, though, she has high expectations for him, wanting him to live a life that closely resembles her own. At the same time, she’s cognizant of the difficulties Daniel faces as a child of color in the white-majority community of Ridgeborough, New York. She frequently voices her concerns regarding this matter, telling Peter that she doesn’t know how to navigate the cultural differences between Daniel and herself. Suddenly, she becomes painfully aware of the acts of subtle racism that her fellow community members carry out on a daily basis, but she doesn’t know how to address these problems. As such, she lets Peter convince her that anything she does for Daniel is better than what the boy experienced before coming to live with them. A protective and attentive mother, she frets about the gambling addiction Daniel develops in college, constantly asking him if he’s attending Gamblers Anonymous after he flunks out of SUNY Potsdam. She also aligns with Peter’s insistence that Daniel fill out a statement of purpose in order to be admitted into Carlough’s summer program. When he obeys these orders and comes back to Ridgeborough to attend these classes, Kay receives a call from Charles, who tells her that Daniel borrowed money from Angel and never paid her back. Daniel evades her when she asks him about this, but she soon learns from Elaine that Daniel gambled away $10,000 of Angel’s money. When Peter catches Daniel playing online poker late one evening at the end of the summer, Kay says nothing to stop him from leaving in the middle of the night, though she later asks him to come home when he goes to live with Polly in China.

Kay Wilkinson Quotes in The Leavers

The The Leavers quotes below are all either spoken by Kay Wilkinson or refer to Kay Wilkinson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Algongquin Books edition of The Leavers published in 2018.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Daniel’s muscles contracted. So Angel hadn’t gone to Nepal. If they were still friends, if she was still talking to him, he would tell her about Michael’s e-mail, about Peter’s accusation of ingratitude, how torn he felt between anger and indebtedness. If only Peter and Kay knew how much he wanted their approval, how he feared disappointing them like he’d disappointed his mother. Angel had once told him that she felt like she owed her parents. “But we can’t make ourselves miserable because we think it’ll make them happy,” she had said. “That’s a screwed up way to live.”

Page Number: 27
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Chapter 4 Quotes

One week later, tucked into a double bed sheathed with red flannel, Deming Guo awoke with the crumbs of dialect on his tongue, smudges and smears of dissolving syllables, nouns and verbs washed out to sea. One language had outseeped another […].

Page Number: 48
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“I’m not going to say it’ll be easy,” said Peter. “But white, black, purple, green, kids of all races have struggles with belonging. They’re fat, or their parents don’t have a lot of money.”

“That’s true,” Kay said. “I was a bookworm with glasses. I never belonged in my hometown.”

“Issues are colorblind.”

Related Characters: Peter Wilkinson (speaker), Kay Wilkinson (speaker), Deming Guo / Daniel Wilkinson
Page Number: 57
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Peter finally said, “This might sound callous, but honestly, whatever we do is going to be better than what he experienced before. You remember what the agency said, how the mother and stepfather both went back to China. We’re the first stable home he’s ever had.”

Page Number: 76
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Chapter 8 Quotes

On the corner of Grand and Lafayette, the address for the poker club reverberated in his mind. He headed south to where Howard Street crossed over to Hester. It wasn’t too late, he could turn and go right to Roland’s, go right past the building, which was narrow, no doorman, only an intercom. He checked his phone; no messages. He was frightened by how much he was about to fuck up, by his lack of desire to stop himself, the rising anticipation at the prospect of falling down, failing harder, and going straight to tilt; he’d known from the moment he left the bar exactly where he would end up. He pressed the intercom button.

Page Number: 159
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He felt a savage euphoria. The night had confirmed his failures, and he’d freed himself from having to fight his inability to live up to Peter and Kay’s hopes. He didn’t want to go to Carlough, wasn’t ever going to be the kind of guy Angel respected, some law-school-applying moral citizen. God, it was great to be himself again.

Page Number: 160
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Chapter 14 Quotes

“We were so afraid of doing something wrong. We thought it would be better if you changed your name so you would feel like you belonged with us, with our family. That you had a family.”

Daniel never knew if Kay wanted him to apologize or reassure her. Either way, he always felt implicated, like there was some expectation he wasn’t meeting.

“Mom.” He didn’t want to see her cry, especially if it was on his behalf. “It’s okay.”

Related Characters: Deming Guo / Daniel Wilkinson (speaker), Kay Wilkinson (speaker), Peter Wilkinson
Page Number: 256
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“Your great-great-grandfather owned that land once. He grew vegetables, he had horses. He was an enterprising man. Jacob Wilkinson.”

Daniel pressed his spoon into his soup again. There was a quiet sorrow about the weighted silver cutlery, the paintings of bygone people and places. He was the last of the Wilkinsons, the only grandchild. His only cousins were on Kay’s side of the family, and they had his Uncle Gary’s last name. The way Peter spoke about it, being the last of the line was a great responsibility; he had to do something special to live up to Jacob Wilkinson’s legacy. This man he looked nothing like, whom, if he had been alive, would probably never accept Daniel as a true Wilkinson.

Page Number: 262
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Chapter 15 Quotes

In the end, he hadn’t been able to do what Peter and Kay wanted. Three more semesters of classes, followed by graduate school. Staying upstate. He hadn’t been able to do what Roland wanted either, play the music Roland wanted him to play.

Page Number: 270
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Chapter 19 Quotes

Everyone had stories they told themselves to get through the days. Like Vivian’s belief that she had helped [Deming], his mother insisting she had looked for him, that she could forget about him because he was okay.

Page Number: 321
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Chapter 21 Quotes

She wasn’t listening to him. He recalled how she and Peter had insisted on English, his new name, the right education. How better and more hinged on their ideas of success, their plans. Mama, Chinese, the Bronx, Deming: they had never been enough. He shivered, and for a brief, horrible moment, he could see himself the way he realized they saw him—as someone who needed to be saved.

Page Number: 332
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