A Reliable Wife Characters

Robert Goolrick
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Ralph Truitt

Middle-aged businessman Ralph Truitt is one of the novel's two central characters or protagonists. In the novel's early stages, Truitt is portrayed as a man who has struggled to lock the pain and suffering of his past, as well as what he sees as his depraved sexual drives, deep inside himself, disconnecting himself from feelings, dreams, and hope. Over the course of the narrative, as the result of the various positive and negative influences Catherine has on him, a complicated mix of remorse, sensuality, hope and relief is released, leaving him open to the possibility and eventual development, of love for the wife he found by advertising in a newspaper. That love survives what many would call extremely challenging circumstances. The first is the awareness that the woman he loves is trying to kill him, but in that case his acceptance is shaped as much by his despair about failing to connect with his estranged son as it is anything else. Eventually, and after the son has left Truitt's life, he also accepts that that Catherine had a passionate sexual affair with the son. Interestingly, the narrative never really makes it clear why Truitt manifests this act of forgiveness. There are two main possibilities: one, that he truly loves her so much that anything she does is forgivable, and two, that his own awareness of his sexual history makes it possible for him to forgive hers. Whatever the reason, the narrative concludes with both Truitt and Catherine having done their best to put their respective dark pasts behind, and preparing to move into a new, healthier, and more loving future together.

Catherine Land

Catherine is the book's second protagonist, a woman in her early thirties who lived a life of desperation for many years, having to resort to begging, thieving, prostitution, and larceny simply to survive. She begins the narrative planning to continue along this path of behavior, determined to marry Ralph Truitt and then kill him, in order to inherit his money. Mercenary and selfish, she finds herself transformed first by Truitt's barely concealed vulnerability, then by the intimacy that springs up between them as the result of their sexual union. When Truitt sends her in search of his long lost son Antonio, however, her licentious and sexually adventurous history comes back to haunt her, as her long-restrained lusts resurface the moment she and Antonio are alone. When she returns to Truitt's home she is more determined than ever to kill him, but because Truitt himself is changing and becoming more vulnerable, compassionate, and open, she finds herself changing, eventually realizing that because she loves the man she planned to kill, she cannot follow through on her original intent. As she nurses him back to physical health and as the narrative suggests, she is nursing herself to emotional health, finding herself able to resist Antonio's increasingly determined attempts to rekindle their relationship. The discovery that she's pregnant with Truitt's child increases her determination to focus her life on his, enabling her to fight off Antonio's attempted rape, to survive Antonio's raging revelation about her history, and to graciously accept Truitt's proffered love and companionship at the narrative's conclusion. In short, Catherine and Truitt share similar journeys of transformation, in many ways acting as each other's primary antagonists as well as co-protagonists.

Antonio

The young, selfish, and decadent Antonio is Truitt's legal son, but not his biological one. Truitt's Italian wife Emilia had an affair with her equally Italian piano teacher. Antonio was born as a result of that affair and, as a result of that affair being discovered by Truitt, abandoned by his mother. Years of conflict with Truitt resulted in Antonio leaving home and living a life of drugs, alcohol and free sex, years that culminate in his affair with Catherine. His determination to see his father suffering and dead leads him into brutalizing Catherine, forcing her to follow through on her plan to kill Truitt and eventually raping her. Caught by his father, Antonio reveals the truth of Catherine's past, but accidentally dies when he falls through shallow ice on a nearby pond. The particularly interesting thing about the character of Antonio is the way in which he, in spite of not being Truitt's biological son, has similar attitudes towards sexuality and women, a similarity commented upon by Truitt himself. But while Truitt is able to gain control over his desires, Antonio does not and ends up dead.

Truitt's Parents

Truitt's businessman father and religiously conservative mother shaped his childhood with firm hands, and in doing so shaped his adulthood as well. The father indoctrinated him in business, while the mother indoctrinated him in self-hatred, telling him there was a monster inside him that needed to be killed and subsequently abusing him, emotionally and physically, in order to get rid of that monster. Both damaged him quite severely, but by the end of the narrative, Truitt has managed to move through their influence and claimed his own identity.

Emilia

Italian born aristocrat Emilia is Truitt's first wife. Penniless and greedy, she and her parents agree that she should marry Truitt for his money. She ends up taking advantage of him, but takes the pursuit of her desires too far into the realm of an affair and is thrown out of Truitt's life as a result. Abandoned by her lover, dismissive of her children, she descends into a life of drugs, alcohol, and sex and has a painful death.

Francesca (Franny)

Francesca is the daughter of Truitt and Emilia, beloved by the former and forgotten by the latter. A childhood disease results in a delay in Francesca's mental and emotional development and in her early death. Truitt mourns her deeply and blames himself for her eventual unhappy demise.

Mrs. Larsen

Mrs. Larsen is Truitt's cook and housekeeper. Middle-aged, quiet, and reserved, Mrs. Larson is devoted to Truitt's well being and extends that devotion to Catherine when she becomes his wife. She is the kind of loving mother figure that Truitt never had as a child.

Mr. Larsen

Larsen is Mrs. Larsen's husband, but appears much less frequently. Suspicious of Catherine from the moment she appears in Truitt's life, as opposed to his wife, who treats her with loyalty and respect, Larsen never warms up to her. Eventually, Larsen is portrayed as one of several local people who behave in an insane manner as the result of having to live through the long, cold, and dark Wisconsin winter.

Mr. Malloy, Mr. Fisk

Malloy and Fisk are the latest in a string of private detectives hired by Truitt to track down his son Antonio. The two are virtually indistinguishable from each other, but do their job, taking Catherine to meet Antonio as they were ordered. Narration at the end of the book reveals that they were also engaged, by Truitt, to keep an eye on Catherine and her behavior and after noting her actions while in St. Louis, sent documentation of those actions to Truitt.

Alice

Alice is Catherine's younger sister, their mother dying as the result of Catherine's birth. Alice is portrayed as selfish, promiscuous, and lazy, entering into a similar life to that which Catherine entered into but unlike Catherine, remaining trapped in that life and sinking lower and lower into depravity. When Catherine attempts to help her improve her life, Alice is at first angry and resentful, but eventually is able to thank Catherine for everything she did.

India

India is Catherine's cousin. Her first appearance is in the book's first chapter, in which narration reveals that Catherine has used a photograph of the plain and essentially unattractive India to trigger Truitt's interest. India herself has an essentially kind soul, helping Catherine out when she needs help treating Truitt's arsenic poisoning, but eventually, when she has had a lot to drink, can't stop herself from asking Catherine for money, convinced that having more cash will enable her to get her long-dreamed-of husband.

Violet Alverson

The hapless and vulnerable Violet Alverson is a young widow with a child whom Antonio begins a relationship with, but cruelly drops when he realizes how dull she is. Her subsequent suicide is clearly linked to Antonio's behavior and in that sense can be seen as a symbolic representation of the sort of selfishness displayed by Antonio and ultimately avoided by Catherine.

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