Monday, July 14, 2008

The Secondary Characters of The Easter Parade (Annotation G4-5/Goddard)

In The Easter Parade, the three primary characters are the Grimes sisters, Emily and Sarah and their mother Pookie. Their portraits over the course of several years is astonishing for such a short novel, especially the girls from childhood through old age. The Emily character consumes most of the pages, and of the three she is the most interesting. The development of her character throughout her life is augmented by her relationships with some of the secondary characters. In three different stages of her life, three of these secondary characters: Walter Grimes, Jack Flanders, and Howard Dunninger help develop her character and plot.
Considering her father, Walter Grimes as a secondary character is apt for Emily's story. It's painfully clear, even early on that sister Sarah has the closer relationship to their father. As Emily matures and readies herself for University, Walter is excited for her. During their conversation, Emily discovers that her father never finished university as she had once thought. Later in life, when Walter dies, Emily discovers that Walter has been seeing women. Although her relationship with her father is not overtly negative one, she never really knew who her father was. And perhaps the aloofness with her father sets the trend with all of her relationships with men.
Jack Flanders, although not her first relationship, is the first relationship Richard Yates explains in detail. During her tenure in Iowa with Jack, Emily still remains somewhat distant from him. Some of this relationship highlights are a romantic rendez-vous under an oak tree and a visit to Europe, but two never seem to connect fully. Jack, although somewhat pathetic man when it comes to confidence and emotions, is ready to commit to Emily. Ultimately, Emily doesn't feel she's able to continue with Jack, and leaves him to return to New York. The relationship is telling of Emily's ability to maintain love. She opts to remain alone rather than settle. Jack remains one of these secondary characters due to the lack of his development even after years of living with Emily.
The last of these men, Howard Dunninger is similar to Emily. The two meet one another in a professional situation, and their relationship ensues almost organically. Although tender toward her, Howard is unavailable emotionally. Different from the first two examples, Emily seems able to commit to this last man. The kind Howard supports Emily emotionally by visiting her family, and offering to support her financially. However, Howard has never gotten over his estranged wife. Emily, now in her late thirties, doesn't seem to mind playing second chair to Linda. Although she expresses minor annoyances when Howard mentions Linda's name, she remains with him. Only later as Howard tells her he will be leaving to repair his relationship with his wife, Emily has a complete breakdown.
In light of these three men, these secondary characters, Yates has elegantly developed Emily's character by showing her reactions rather than simply stating her personality traits. These secondary characters pepper the entire story, and without the dozens of them, a story of the three women over the course of their lives would be flat as their interactions with each other are limited.

Yates, Richard. The Easter Parade. Picador: New York, 1976.

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