Hagar Shipley is the novel’s protagonist and narrator. A ninety-year-old woman whose rapid physical and mental decline often sends her reeling backwards into memories of her youth in the fictional Manitoba prairie town of Manawaka… read analysis of Hagar Shipley
Hagar’s oldest son Marvin is, at the start of the novel, a veritable mess. Caught between the demands of his ailing mother and his frustrated wife Doris, he knows that a decision about… read analysis of Marvin Shipley
Doris is, in Hagar’s eyes, a frumpy but shrill woman undeserving of her husband Marvin’s affections. In reality, though, Doris is a supportive partner to Marvin and even, despite her resentment for the… read analysis of Doris Shipley
Brampton “Bram” Shipley
Hagar’s coarse, crass, domineering husband Bram is a farmer fourteen years her senior, with two children from a previous marriage. Bram has a reputation throughout town as a shiftless, drunken womanizer—to Hagar, he represents… read analysis of Brampton “Bram” Shipley
Jason Currie / Hagar’s Father
Hagar’s father. A Scottish immigrant from a prominent but not particularly wealthy family of proud, strong Highlanders, Jason Currie originally rose to prominence in Manawaka as the founder and proprietor of the town’s first… read analysis of Jason Currie / Hagar’s Father
Hagar’s older brother. A weak, frail child who milks every sickness he endures to gain affection from Jason and Auntie Doll, Dan eventually succumbs to pneumonia and dies. Hagar’s failure to comfort him… read analysis of Dan Currie
Hagar’s older brother. The stronger of the two, Matt nonetheless succumbs to influenza in his twenties and dies, resentful of Hagar until his last days for the fact that she received an education while… read analysis of Matt Currie
One of Hagar’s childhood friends. Lottie, teased as a young girl and called “No-Name” because her father abandoned her and her mother, eventually rises in Manawaka society to become the wife of the wealthy… read analysis of Lottie Drieser
The daughter of Lottie and Telford, Arlene is first introduced as a prissy and silly young girl, her wealthy parents’ only child. After the Depression hits Manawaka, though, Arlene takes up with John… read analysis of Arlene Simmons
A minister from Doris’s church who comes to call on Hagar several times. He attempts to offer her solace through prayer and quiet contemplation, but Hagar rejects his entreaties for her to accept the… read analysis of Mr. Troy
Murray F. Lees
When Hagar runs away to Shadow Point and takes refuge in an abandoned cannery, one evening she becomes afraid that an intruder, tramp, or vagrant has come to rob her—however, it is a scrawny and… read analysis of Murray F. Lees
A young girl who shares Hagar’s semiprivate hospital room. Admitted for an appendectomy, Sandra worries that the operation will be painful. Hagar assures her it’ll be a breeze, but when Sandra wakes up from… read analysis of Sandra Wong
The Currie family’s housekeeper.
One of Hagar’s childhood friends, a well-to-do young girl whose family throws Hagar and Bram a wedding celebration when Hagar’s own family refuses to acknowledge the union.
One of Hagar’s childhood friends, Telford is the scrawny son of the local mortician who eventually grows up to become a wealthy banker.
One of Hagar’s childhood friends, Henry is the one to eventually deliver the news of John’s horrible car accident.
A wealthy “import-export” man—in truth, a former smuggler—who hires Hagar and takes both her and John in at his massive house after she leaves Bram.
Jessica “Jess” Shipley
One of Bram’s daughters from his first marriage.
A kindly, frail, gossipy woman on the public ward at the hospital who befriends Hagar and helps her adjust to life there, giving her tips on how to deal with the doctors and nurses and get the medicine she needs.
A woman on the public ward at the hospital who sings in German all night every night and who, apparently, prays each day for death.
An obese woman on the public ward at the hospital.
Hagar’s grandson, a confident young man who briefly visits her in the hospital.