A Woman of Independent Means
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"A Woman of Independent Means" Characters Analysis

By Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

fiction | 288 pages | Published in NaN

A bestselling sensation when it was first published by Viking in 1978, A Woman of Independent Means has delighted millions of readers and was the inspiration for the television miniseries starring Sally Field.At the turn of the century, a time when women had few choices, Bess Steed Garner inherits a legacy—not only of wealth but of determination and desire, making her truly a woman of independent means. From the early 1900s through the 1960s, we accompany Bess as she endures life's trials and triumphs with unfailing courage and indomitable spirit: the sacrifices love sometimes requires of the heart, the flaws and rewards of marriage, the often-tested bond between mother and child, and the will to defy a society that demands conformity. Now, with this beautiful trade paperback edition, Penguin will introduce a new generation of readers to this richly woven story. . .and to Bess Steed Garner, a woman for all ages.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

Table of Contents

  1. List of Characters

List of Characters

Character NameRole
Bess Steed GarnerProtagonist
Robert GarnerHusband
John GarnerSon
Mother SteedMother
Father SteedFather
Aunt BelleAunt
Aunt RuthAunt
Aunt KateAunt
Aunt JuliaAunt
Aunt LouiseAunt
Uncle BenUncle
Uncle HankUncle
Uncle SamUncle
Uncle TomUncle
Uncle JoeUncle
Mary T.Best Friend

Role Identification

In Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's novel "A Woman of Independent Means," the story revolves around Bess Steed Garner, the protagonist and the central character of the book. Bess is a strong, independent woman who navigates various roles throughout her life, including being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. The other characters in the book play significant roles in shaping Bess's journey and her understanding of herself.

Character Descriptions

  1. Bess Steed Garner: The main character, Bess, is a resilient and determined woman. She is intelligent, resourceful, and has a keen sense of humor. Bess is depicted as a loving wife, a devoted mother, and a fiercely independent individual.
  2. Robert Garner: Bess's husband, Robert, is a supportive and caring partner. He is a successful businessman who appreciates Bess's independent spirit. Robert is depicted as a loving father and a pillar of strength in Bess's life.
  3. Totsie: Bess and Robert's daughter, Totsie, is a lively and spirited girl. She shares a close bond with her mother and brings joy to the family.
  4. John Garner: Bess and Robert's son, John, is a kind-hearted and thoughtful boy. He looks up to his father and shares a special connection with Bess.
  5. Mother Steed: Bess's mother, Mother Steed, is a strong-willed and independent woman. She instills in Bess the importance of self-reliance and determination.
  6. Father Steed: Bess's father, Father Steed, is a loving and supportive figure in her life. He encourages her to pursue her dreams and stands by her side.
  7. Aunt Belle, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, Aunt Louise: Bess's aunts are a colorful and diverse group of women. They each bring their unique perspectives and experiences to Bess's life.
  8. Uncle Ben, Uncle Hank, Uncle Sam, Uncle Tom, Uncle Joe: Bess's uncles provide a sense of stability and guidance throughout her life. They are portrayed as wise and caring individuals.
  9. Mary T.: Bess's best friend, Mary T., is a constant source of support and companionship. She provides Bess with a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.
  10. Maggie: The family's nanny, Maggie, is a nurturing and loving presence in Bess's life. She helps raise Totsie and John and becomes an important part of the family.
  11. Albert: Bess's brother-in-law, Albert, is a reliable and trustworthy figure. He offers assistance and support to Bess during challenging times.
  12. Elizabeth: Bess's sister-in-law, Elizabeth, is a kind-hearted and compassionate woman. She provides comfort and understanding to Bess when she needs it the most.
  13. Ruth, Jack, Benjamin, Gracie, Charlie: Bess's nieces and nephews are a source of joy and love in her life. She cherishes her relationships with them.

Character Traits

Bess Steed Garner: Determined, independent, intelligent, resourceful, resilient, loving, witty.

Robert Garner: Supportive, caring, successful, loving, strong.

Totsie: Lively, spirited, joyful.

John Garner: Kind-hearted, thoughtful, admiring.

Mother Steed: Strong-willed, independent.

Father Steed: Loving, supportive.

Aunt Belle, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, Aunt Louise: Colorful, diverse, wise.

Uncle Ben, Uncle Hank, Uncle Sam, Uncle Tom, Uncle Joe: Stable, caring, wise.

Mary T.: Supportive, loyal, understanding.

Maggie: Nurturing, loving.

Albert: Reliable, trustworthy.

Elizabeth: Kind-hearted, compassionate.

Ruth, Jack, Benjamin, Gracie, Charlie: Joyful, loving.

Character Background

Bess Steed Garner comes from a loving and supportive family. Her parents, Mother Steed and Father Steed, instilled in her the values of independence and determination. Bess grows up surrounded by her aunts and uncles, who provide her with guidance and support. She forms a close bond with her best friend, Mary T., who becomes a lifelong confidante.

Bess marries Robert Garner, a successful businessman, and together they have two children, Totsie and John. Bess's journey is shaped by her experiences as a wife and mother, as well as her interactions with her extended family.

Character Arcs

Bess Steed Garner's character arc in "A Woman of Independent Means" is one of personal growth, resilience, and self-discovery. She starts as a young woman full of ambition and dreams, and throughout the book, she faces various challenges and triumphs. Bess learns to navigate the complexities of marriage, motherhood, and loss while maintaining her sense of self and independence.

Her character evolves from a spirited and determined young woman to a wise and resilient matriarch. Bess's experiences shape her perspective on life, love, and the importance of cherishing relationships.


Bess has meaningful relationships with various characters in the book:

  • Her relationship with Robert is one of love, support, and mutual respect. They navigate the ups and downs of married life together.
  • Bess shares a deep bond with her children, Totsie and John. She is a loving and devoted mother, and they bring immense joy to her life.
  • Bess's parents, Mother Steed and Father Steed, play a crucial role in shaping her values and beliefs. Their unconditional love and support provide a strong foundation for her character.
  • Her aunts and uncles offer guidance, wisdom, and a sense of belonging. Bess cherishes her relationships with each of them, learning valuable lessons from their diverse perspectives.
  • Bess's best friend, Mary T., is a constant source of support and companionship. Their friendship stands the test of time and provides Bess with a confidante throughout her life.
  • Maggie, the family's nanny, becomes an integral part of Bess's life. She provides nurturing and love, helping raise Totsie and John.
  • Bess's extended family, including her siblings-in-law and nieces and nephews, bring joy and love into her life. She cherishes her relationships with each of them.

In "A Woman of Independent Means," Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey skillfully portrays the complex web of relationships that shape Bess Steed Garner's journey. Through these relationships, Bess learns about love, loss, resilience, and the importance of maintaining her independence and sense of self.