Mattie Lou Blakeslee
Mattie Lou is Will Tweedy’s grandmother and the wife of Rucker Blakeslee. She dies before the novel’s action begins and does not appear directly in the story. She was a good wife to Rucker and earned the respect of the town for her kindness. She was an avid gardener and loved her rosebushes.
Rucker is a veteran of the Civil War, the patriarch of his family, and the owner of the town’s general store, which becomes the hub of gossip. He has a commanding physical presence, and he enjoys shaking up Cold Sassy by violating its norms and defying its conventions, particularly by marrying a much younger woman, Miss Love, just weeks after his first wife’s death. He likes to puncture the pretensions and hypocrisies of the townspeople. He is depicted as stubborn, cantankerous, and brash. At the same time, he is more open-minded than most of the people in Cold Sassy, including his own daughters. He is a man of great integrity, and as such he has a profound effect on his grandson,Will Tweedy. He is an intensely religious man, but his religion, unlike that of many of the townspeople, is not just for outward show. Rather, he thinks deeply about spiritual questions. After his beard is shaved off, it is discovered that he andWill bear a marked physical resemblance to each other. The two characters are in a sense mirror images. Will grows and develops by becoming a bit more like his grandfather; Rucker grows and develops by becoming a little more like Will. He becomes more easygoing and less stingy as his marriage to Miss Love grows into one of genuine affection.
Although Will Tweedy refers to this woman as ‘‘Aunt’’ Carrie, she is not his aunt but simply a close family friend. She is regarded as a bit of an oddball, and other than Miss Love, she is the only woman in Cold Sassy who advocates women’s suffrage.
Loomis, an African American, works at Rucker Blakeslee’s general store and is the husband of the Tweedys’ cook, Queenie. He is a kind man and is regarded as a good preacher.
Clayton is a rancher from Texas. He is charming, but he treats Miss Love badly; his past treatment of her caused her to resist love and marriage.
Lightfoot is a studious girl in Will Tweedy’s class at school. She and Will have feelings for each other, but later, after her father dies, she announces to Will that she is marrying Hosie Roach.
Queenie, an African American, works as a cook for the Tweedy family and is the wife of Loomis. She feels the effects of racial prejudice in Cold Sassy.
Hosie is a much older boy who still attends Will Tweedy’s school. The two boys are enemies, though the townspeople generally think highly of Hosie. Eventually, Lightfoot McClendon agrees to marry him after he takes a job at Rucker’s general store.
Miss Love Simpson
Miss Love works as a hat maker in Rucker’s general store, and she marries Rucker three weeks after his first wife, Mattie Lou, dies. She is depicted as kind, openhearted, exuberant, spirited, and a breath of fresh air in Cold Sassy. Like Rucker, she defies the town’s conventions. Questions arise as to the nature of the marriage. Many of the townspeople believe that she marries Rucker for his money. Will suspects that Rucker simply needs someone to take care of him. Questions also arise about whether Rucker and Miss Love were having an affair before Mattie Lou died. As the novel approaches its climax, though, it becomes apparent that their marriage has developed and deepened. Miss Love’s initial resistance to entering into a real marriage is the result of a childhood incident: When she was twelve, she was raped by her drunken father. Her relationship with Will Tweedy, the novel’s narrator, is important in depicting the growth of Will’s character. He has always liked Miss Love. As the two get to know one another, Will comes to understand her more. His support of Miss Love and the marriage is key to his ability to outgrow the moral and social constraints of Cold Sassy.
Effie Belle Tate
Miss Tate is Rucker Blakeslee’s next-door neighbor. She is representative of the nosiness and narrow-mindedness of the Cold Sassy community.
Hoyt is Will Tweedy’s father and Mary Willis’s wife. As Rucker’s son-in-law, he works at Rucker’s general store. He is depicted as a religious man who treats Will with sternness. He is interested in modern technology and buys the first automobile in Cold Sassy.
Mary Joy Tweedy
Mary Joy is Will Tweedy’s younger sister.
Mary Willis Tweedy
Mary Willis is Rucker Blakeslee’s elder daughter, Will Tweedy’s mother, and Loma Williams’s sister. She is depicted as a nervous woman who is deeply affected by the death of her mother. She leads a very conventional life and shares many of the prejudices of the town.
Will is the novel’s narrator and protagonist. He narrates the events of the novel from the perspective of 1914, though the events take place primarily in 1906 and 1907, when he is fourteen years old (he turns fifteen near the novel’s end). The novel focuses on Will’s growth and development as he passes from childhood to early manhood, marked symbolically by the first time he shaves. The point of view of the novel is complex because Will is telling the story when he is twenty-two years old, but he tells it from the perspective of his adolescent self. Thus he can show and understand his maturation as he deals with a wide range of complex issues: love, death, sexual awakening, prejudice, narrowmindedness, social constraints, modernization, and the ways of the South in the decades after the Civil War. His physical resemblance to his grandfather, Rucker, helps suggest that the two characters are mirror images whose lives move in opposite directions. Will becomes more like his grandfather by growing braver and more direct; Rucker becomes more like Will by becoming more youthful and exuberant.
Campbell ‘‘Camp’’ Williams
Camp is Loma’s husband. He works at Rucker Blakeslee’s general store. He is depicted as generally incompetent and the object of Rucker and Loma’s scorn. He is eventually driven to despair and commits suicide by shooting himself.
Loma is married to Campbell Williams. She is Rucker Blakeslee’s younger daughter and thus Will Tweedy’s aunt. Just twenty years old, she earlier wanted to pursue a career as an actress. She treats Camp poorly, and Will has long hated her. She is bossy, irritable, and given to fits of jealousy, though she encourages Will to become a writer.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Olive Ann Burns, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.