Miss Darling is the teacher for Grade Six. Young and inexperienced, she is more concerned about her own image than in dealing with the bullying that occurs in class. She lacks self-confidence and is unsure about what she should do. The older, more experienced teachers ignore the children at recess. They go into the teacher’s lounge and let the children do what children do at recess. Miss Darling, on the other hand, watches the children at play and is described as trying to direct their play or their actions. She is not at ease and is overly earnest about directing the girls in Grade Six, whom she asks to be nicer to Myra. The children easily pick up on Miss Darling’s uncertainty and exploit it. Because she has no understanding of adolescent behavior or of how bullying works, Miss Darling is completely unaware that pushing the girls to be nicer to Myra will have exactly the opposite effect and lead to more cruelty. Although the girls in the class have not paid much attention to Myra in the past, Miss Darling’s interference causes Myra to become an object of ridicule and harassment. Miss Darling’s desire to have a birthday party for Myra at the hospital is done more for herself, to make her feel good as a competent teacher, than it is to benefit Myra.
Gladys is the leader of the popular girls. She is better dressed than the other girls, due to her father’s ownership of the local dry-goods store. She is also physically more mature than the other girls, which makes her the object of envy. Gladys possesses a forceful personality and so is a natural leader. All of the other girls do as Gladys directs because her manner demands obedience. When Miss Darling asks the girls to be nicer to Myra, Gladys begins to imitate Miss Darling, and soon all of the girls are imitating Miss Darling. The sound that Gladys makes when Miss Darling asks the girls to be nice to Myra is described as a ‘‘coo.’’ A coo is a soft murmur, a sound of contentment, which described how pleased Gladys is when Miss Darling provides the opportunity to challenge her teacher’s authority.
Helen is the narrator of ‘‘Day of the Butterfly.’’ She lives in the country on a farm, but her father pays extra money so that Helen can attend school in town, where the school and teachers are better. Helen’s mother is described as ambitious and wants her daughter to get a better education. Helen is the only one in the class who carries her sandwiches in a lunch pail. She eats in the cloakroom by herself every day and must wear boots because of the mud on the country road. She is already different than her classmates and so exists barely on the fringe of the popular girls. When the opportunity to speak with Myra presents itself, Helen is unsure what to do because she does not want to be seen speaking with Myra, since a perceived friendship with Myra would put her own popularity at risk. However, Helen also likes the idea that by speaking to Myra, she can appear to be more benevolent, and she cannot resist Myra’s admiration. When she tells Myra she wishes she could be like her, Helen feels quite altruistic and generous in befriending a girl that no one else likes. Although not completely confident about her position in the class hierarchy, Helen is sure about her career plans: she will be an airline hostess. Helen’s memories of Myra suggest that she feels some guilt over her treatment of a young girl who later died.
Jimmy is described as being in Grade One and needing his sister’s help to go to the bathroom. When he is unable to get there in time, he wets himself. The narrator says that Jimmy is often kept inside the school at recess as punishment for breaking rules, although what exactly he does is not stated. Jimmy is described as looking like his sister: hunched over, thin, with long dark hair. He often looks sad, secretive, and tired. His appearance gives nothing away about who he is or his life. He holds onto his knowledge and keeps it close to him.
Myra is physically like her brother. She appears hunched over, thin, with long dark hair, braided and twisted around her head. Like her brother, Myra also looks sad, secretive, and tired. Her appearance also divulges no information about who she is, how she is feeling, or what is happening in her life. She and her brother are compared to wooden carvings, which display no personality or content: they are flat and unresponsive. Myra wears her mother’s dresses to school. They are made over to fit her, but these clothes, along with her appearance, make her stand out as different from her peers. She is forced to be responsible for her little brother, and so is further set apart. Her speech is awkward and her command of English is limited. The teacher corrects Myra’s speech, which suggests that she is an immigrant unfamiliar with English. Myra is shy and unsure when Helen speaks with her as they walk to school. Myra wants to keep the conversation going and obviously searches for commonalities that the two girls might share. She is nervous and somewhat unsure about Helen initially, but soon feels more relaxed. In the final scene in the hospital, the narrator mentions twice that Myra’s skin is brown, which continues the emphasis on Myra as different from the other children. Unlike Helen, Myra has no career plans laid out before her. She thinks she will grow up to help her parents in the store. Children working with their parents to make a success of a new business is a common immigrant experience.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Alice Munro – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.