Angle of Repose
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"Angle of Repose" Characters Analysis

By Wallace Stegner

fiction | 482 pages | Published in 2000

Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of personal, historical, and geographic discovery Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents' remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America's western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he's willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family. "Cause for celebration . . . A superb novel with an amplitude of scale and richness of detail altogether uncommon in contemporary fiction." —The Atlantic Monthly "Brilliant . . . Two stories, past and present, merge to produce what important fiction must: a sense of the enchantment of life." —Los Angeles Times This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by Jackson J. Benson. For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

ISBN_13:9781101075821
ISBN_10:1101075821

Estimated read time: 8 min read

List of Characters

Below is a list of the key characters in the novel "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner:

Character NameRole
Lyman WardProtagonist, narrator
Susan WardLyman's grandmother
Oliver WardLyman's grandfather
Augusta WardLyman's mother
Shelly RasmussenLyman's ex-wife
Ellen WardLyman's wife

Role Identification

In "Angle of Repose," Lyman Ward serves as the protagonist and narrator. He is tasked with chronicling the lives of his ancestors, primarily focusing on the lives of his grandparents, Susan and Oliver Ward. The narrative alternates between Lyman's present-day struggles as a disabled historian and the historical accounts of his grandparents' experiences.

Character Descriptions

Lyman Ward

Lyman Ward is a middle-aged historian who has become physically disabled due to a severe hip injury. He is a complex character struggling with his own identity, relationships, and the burden of his family's history. Although he is initially distant and detached, Lyman's connection with his ancestors becomes deeply personal as he delves into their stories.

Susan Ward

Susan Ward, Lyman's grandmother, is portrayed as a resilient and independent woman. She is initially depicted as a cultured and educated individual who struggles to balance her own ambitions with societal expectations. Throughout the novel, Susan's character evolves as she confronts hardships and navigates her marriage to Oliver Ward.

Oliver Ward

Oliver Ward, Lyman's grandfather, is a mining engineer and an adventurous spirit. He is portrayed as a restless individual who constantly seeks new experiences. Oliver's determination to chase after wealth and success often leads to conflict within his family, but he remains a vital figure throughout the narrative.

Augusta Ward

Augusta Ward, Lyman's mother, makes occasional appearances in the story. She is depicted as a fragile woman who suffers from mental health issues. Augusta's struggles and complexities contribute to Lyman's own challenges in understanding his family's history and legacy.

Shelly Rasmussen

Shelly Rasmussen is Lyman's ex-wife, and her character is explored through Lyman's memories and reflections. Shelly is presented as a free-spirited woman who challenges traditional expectations. Her relationship with Lyman provides insight into his own struggles with intimacy and personal growth.

Ellen Ward

Ellen Ward, Lyman's wife, plays a minor role in the novel. She is supportive of Lyman's research but remains distant from his emotional journey. Ellen's character serves as a contrast to Lyman's deep connection with his ancestors and highlights the challenges faced by individuals when trying to comprehend someone else's history.

Character Traits

Lyman Ward

  • Intelligent
  • Analytical
  • Reserved
  • Curious
  • Reflective

Susan Ward

  • Strong-willed
  • Artistic
  • Ambitious
  • Adaptable
  • Empathetic

Oliver Ward

  • Adventurous
  • Restless
  • Ambitious
  • Confident
  • Resourceful

Augusta Ward

  • Fragile
  • Vulnerable
  • Sensitive
  • Resentful
  • Imaginative

Shelly Rasmussen

  • Free-spirited
  • Independent
  • Unconventional
  • Passionate
  • Non-conformist

Ellen Ward

  • Supportive
  • Detached
  • Practical
  • Observant
  • Patient

Character Background

Lyman Ward

Lyman Ward is the descendant of Susan and Oliver Ward, early pioneers in the American West during the late 19th century. He is a retired historian who has dedicated his life to understanding and documenting his family's history. Lyman's personal background includes a failed marriage to Shelly Rasmussen and his own physical disability, which adds depth and complexity to his character.

Susan Ward

Susan Ward was born into a well-to-do family in the intellectual circles of New York City during the late 19th century. Despite societal expectations, Susan pursues her passion for art and eventually marries Oliver Ward, a mining engineer. Through their adventures in various mining communities, Susan's character evolves, highlighting the challenges faced by women in a male-dominated society.

Oliver Ward

Oliver Ward comes from a modest background but is driven by ambition and a thirst for adventure. He becomes a highly successful mining engineer, traveling to different mining towns and experiencing the highs and lows of the business. Oliver's character is shaped by his desire for wealth, his devotion to his family, and his passion for exploration.

Augusta Ward

Augusta Ward, Lyman's mother, grew up in the shadow of her extraordinary parents' legacy. She battles with mental health issues throughout her life, struggling to find her own identity separate from her parents' accomplishments. Augusta's character provides insight into the challenges faced by those born into the shadow of greatness.

Shelly Rasmussen

Shelly Rasmussen is a modern woman who challenges societal norms in her relationships and lifestyle choices. She is portrayed as an enigmatic character, breaking free from traditional expectations and embracing her independence. Shelly's unconventional nature and the eventual end of her marriage to Lyman Ward adds complexity to his character.

Ellen Ward

Ellen Ward, Lyman's wife, has a limited role in the narrative. She is supportive of Lyman's research but remains distant from the emotional journey he undergoes. Her character represents a more contemporary and pragmatic perspective compared to the historical figures in the story.

Character Arcs

Lyman Ward

Lyman's character arc centers around his journey of self-discovery and accepting his own identity. Through his research and contemplation of his ancestors' lives, he comes to terms with his disability and finds a renewed sense of purpose and understanding.

Susan Ward

Susan's character arc follows her transformation from a sheltered, cultured woman into a resilient, adaptable pioneer. As she confronts hardships and adapts to life in mining communities, Susan discovers her own strength and creativity.

Oliver Ward

Oliver's character arc revolves around his pursuit of wealth and success. His experiences in various mining towns shape him, and he gradually learns the value of family and stability. Oliver's arc also reflects the consequences of his ambitions on his relationships.

Augusta Ward

Augusta's character arc reflects the struggles of a sensitive and imaginative woman confined by societal expectations. Her mental health issues and attempts to find her identity separate from her parents' legacy contribute to her character growth.

Shelly Rasmussen

Shelly's character arc focuses on her pursuit of personal freedom and autonomy. Her decision to end her marriage with Lyman Ward and embrace her unconventional lifestyle demonstrates her commitment to challenging societal norms and expectations.

Ellen Ward

As a minor character, Ellen does not have a significant character arc within the story. However, her character serves as a contrast to the historical figures and highlights the challenges faced by individuals when trying to comprehend someone else's family history or legacy.

Relationships

The novel "Angle of Repose" explores various relationships among the characters, shaping their individual journeys and experiences.

  • Lyman and Susan Ward: The relationship between Lyman and his grandmother, Susan, is central to the novel. Through Lyman's research and understanding of Susan's life, a deep bond is formed between them, transcending time and distance.
  • Susan and Oliver Ward: The marriage between Susan and Oliver is characterized by love, ambition, and sacrifices. While they share a strong connection and mutual understanding, their relationship is also marked by challenges and conflict arising from Oliver's pursuit of success and wealth.
  • Lyman and Augusta Ward: Lyman's relationship with his mother, Augusta, is strained due to her fragile mental health. Her troubled background affects Lyman, contributing to his own journey of self-discovery and understanding.
  • Lyman and Shelly Rasmussen: Lyman's relationship with Shelly Rasmussen represents a modern dynamic in the novel. Their marriage and subsequent divorce contribute to Lyman's personal growth and exploration of intimacy and commitment.
  • Lyman and Ellen Ward: Ellen's role in the novel is that of a supportive but somewhat distant wife. Her character highlights the challenges faced by individuals when trying to comprehend someone else's family history or legacy.

In "Angle of Repose," character relationships play a crucial role in driving the narrative forward while exploring themes of family, identity, and the human experience. Through these relationships, the characters evolve, arc, and create an intricate tapestry of emotions and connections.