Betty Hawthorne is Jack’s mother. She grieves for her son in secret; the outward manifestation of this grief is a significant weight gain. Betty struggles to keep her family together through a very difficult time. Fortunately she is comforted by her supportive friends and is able to find the strength she needs to keep going. Betty is the one who introduces the children to music, and her insistence on French horn lessons makes possible Jack’s eventual recovery.
Dale Hawthorne is Jack’s father. The death of his younger son nearly destroys him, and he struggles to deal with the tragedy. He leaves his family, has several love affairs, and generally shirks his responsibility. However, he comes home at last, asking for forgiveness and searching for his own redemption.
Only twelve years old, Jack accidentally kills his brother by rolling him over with a cultipacker, a large machine used for farming. He blames himself for the accident and isolates himself from his family. Jack reviews the incident over and over again. Concerned about his increasing isolation, his mother insists that he take French horn lessons. Surprisingly, it turns into an effective therapy for the young man. In fact, it is through the French horn that Jack eventually finds redemption.
Phoebe Hawthorne is Jack’s younger sister, the baby of the family. Only five years of age at the time of the accident, she copes with the loss by making cakes, doing household chores, and taking food to the men in the field. She believes that her family will be reunited in heaven and that God will heal her father.
Arcady Yegudkin is Jack’s music teacher. Like Jack, he is a survivor of a traumatic incident. He and his wife escaped from Russia during the Revolution after being shot and left for dead by soldiers. In Europe, he became a famous musician, and coped with his bad memories by burying himself in his music.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, John Gardner, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.