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Character Analysis in Afterward

Mrs. Mary Boyne: Mary is an American woman married to Ned. Using funds from a sudden windfall, they buy a remote home in England. Mary is inquisitive but has trouble understanding the business dealings her husband undertakes. However, she has faith in him to do right to secure their financial future. She romanticizes European living, referencing the tropes of Gothic tradition when purchasing a home.

Mr. Ned Boyne: Ned is married to Mary. At their new English home, Ned is working on an economics book after having received a large amount of money by investing in the Blue Star Mine. He is the couple’s financial earner and can sometimes be impatient with Mary’s curiosity.

Character Analysis Examples in Afterward:


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"discarded as too ineffectual for imaginative use...."   (I)

“Ineffectual” here means not producing the desired effect—assumedly the terror and mystery associated with a ghostly “haunting.” The ghost continues to be rendered as a commodity, which is soon disregarded by the Boynes when it fails to provide requisite entertainment or “usefulness.”

"They’ve been able to lay the butter so thick on every exquisite mouthful.”..."   (I)

This demonstrates the Boynes’ version of “luxury” by using vivid, evocative imagery. Here, the Boynes’ not only conceptualize the history and aesthetic of their house as a commodity to own but also as a good to consume. This notion is further emphasized by the following line: “The butter had certainly been laid on thick at Lyng.” This metaphor deepens the contention that the Boynes’ desire is more closely connected to the “idea” of the quintessential country house rather than to the real estate itself.

"I don’t want to have to drive ten miles to see somebody else’s ghost. I want one of my own on the premises...."   (I)

The phrasing of this line further emphasizes that the Boynes see history and tradition as a commodity to be purchased and owned. It is interesting to note that Ned Boyne is most interested in the ghost, possibly foreshadowing future events.

"“the least hint of ‘convenience’ would make me think it had been bought out of an exhibition, with the pieces numbered, and set up again.”..."   (I)

The Boynes are not content with an imitation of the old English manor style they seek. Rather, they want to purchase not only the house and surrounding land but also its accompanying history (which they see as guaranteed by a lack of modern conveniences). If the Boynes intend to purchase a house based on its history, then their primary concern is to make sure this history is authentic.

"they had rejected, almost capriciously, several practical and judicious suggestions..."   (I)

The adverb “capriciously” describes actions that are impulsive or unpredictable. The word is modified here with “almost,” suggesting that when the Boynes rejected “judicious,” or wise suggestions, for housing, they did so with such haste that it seemed almost as if they had forgone good sense or judgment. This description suggests that the Boynes are willing to forgo “practical” options in order to realize their romantic notion of a traditional English country manor, with all its old-fashioned trimmings.

"Besides, she had felt from the first that, in a community where the amenities of living could be obtained only at the cost of efforts as arduous as her husband’s professional labors, such brief leisure as they could command should be used as an escape from immediate preoccupations, a flight to the life they always dreamed of living...."   (II)

Although Mary would like to find her husband’s business dealings interesting, the truth is that she doesn’t, and so she avoids learning more about them. She justifies this method of living by deciding that since her husband works so hard to provide for them, their time together should be focused on leisure rather than work. While Mary would like to be a well-informed wife, her focus is more on fleeing the unpleasantness of life rather than confronting it.

"It’s all rather technical and complicated. I thought that kind of thing bored you.”..."   (II)

Here, Mary’s ignorance of her husband’s work is further complicated. Her husband’s words indicate Mary’s own apathy is a factor in why she doesn’t know the full details of what he does.

"I can’t understand more than half.”..."   (II)

Though Mary is an upper-class and, presumably, educated woman, she is unable to comprehend the full extent of her husband’s financial dealings. This separation between them seems to be mixture of her own ignorance regarding business matters and her husband’s efforts to conceal the details of his dealings.

"it looked a mere blot of deeper gray in the grayness, and for an instant, as it moved toward her, her heart thumped to the thought, “It’s the ghost!”..."   (II)

Mary is quick to see the Lyng ghost—even welcoming its presence, since it makes their home more authentically Gothic. Again Mary’s weak sight betrays her, and the ghost does not appear. However, her continued mistaking of flesh-and-blood people for ghosts foreshadows the appearance of the actual ghost.

"If she had indeed been careless of her husband’s affairs, it was, her new state seemed to prove, because her faith in him instinctively justified such carelessness; and his right to her faith had overwhelmingly affirmed itself in the very face of menace and suspicion. ..."   (III)

Again, Mary seeks to justify her ignorance of her husband’s affairs. To be a good wife necessitates trust, which Ned is owed by virtue of their marriage. This relationship, though not entirely equal, seems to be satisfactory to Mary, who is content to be a supportive partner.

"she felt almost like the furniture of the room in which she sat, an insensate object to be dusted and pushed about with the chairs and tables...."   (IV)

The adjective “insensate” means lacking in awareness, feeling, or understanding. Mary feels as though she has become part of the house: she exists simply for decoration, not for any greater purpose. Her husband’s disappearance has numbed her to old feelings of terror as she becomes more accustomed to the ever-present feeling of dread.

"as unemotionally as a gramophone grinding out its “record.”..."   (V)

Like a gramophone—another word for a record player—Parvis is machinelike, unimpeded by emotion as he recounts the horrible suicide of Elwell. The simile suggests that Parvis doesn’t feel emotional about Elwell’s death, and that he is merely performing his duty by enlightening Mary about Ned’s dealings.

"Her husband had made his money in that brilliant speculation at the cost of “getting ahead” of some one less alert to seize the chance; the victim of his ingenuity was young Robert Elwell, who had “put him on” to the Blue Star scheme...."   (V)

Here, Parvis explains more fully what happened between Ned and Robert Elwell. Through quick-thinking and underhanded business tactics, Ned was able to elbow Elwell out of money, taking the profit from speculation for himself, despite Elwell’s having told Ned about the opportunity. The origin of the couple’s windfall is thus revealed: Ned’s greed and willingness to undercut those who have helped him.

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