Author: Edgar Lee Masters
First published: 1915
Locale: Spoon River, a Midwestern town
Plot: Social realism
Time: Late nineteenth or early twentieth century
Thomas Rhodes, the president of the bank and the town's most influential citizen. Like the other characters, he is dead and telling his story from a graveyard. A deacon of the town's most prestigious church, he also owned the town store. Under his mismanagement, the bank was ruined, destroying many lives. Although others went to prison, political and social influence allowed Rhodes to plea bargain for an acquittal. When he believed the store manager was stealing blankets to pay his daughter's medical bills, Rhodes hounded him mercilessly. He was a petty, arrogant, self-righteous tyrant who believed that the wealthy deserve rights denied to the poor.
Coolbaugh Whedon,theeditorofthe Argus, Spoon River's conservative newspaper. He served the business interests of the community and admitted to perverting truth for a purpose and accepting money for supporting political candidates. He would publish scandal and crush reputations for business or revenge, or simply to sell more papers. His view of life was negative. From his grave by the river that others find beautiful, he sees only a place where sewage flows, garbage is dumped, and abortions are hidden.
Benjamin Pantier, an attorney, a powerful and strong individual until his wife drove him out of their home. He was then reduced to living in a small room behind his office with his dog, Nig. His wife, who ironically is known only as Mrs. Benjamin Pantier, loathed him for his drinking and his common nature. The two held opposite views on almost every issue. She was the head of the Social Purity Club, which sought to eliminate drinking, gambling, and horse racing. He enjoyed the saloon and its pleasant camaraderie. Separately, each did good for the community. She campaigned for women's suffrage, and he helped many people in the courtroom. It was only against each other that they unleashed their most destructive forces.
Daisy Frasier, a prostitute who was scorned by the proper citizens. She contributed to the school fund every time she was taken to court. She was more generous and caring than many of the town's more honorable and distinguished citizens. Her house and land were taken away from her because the canning works, run by Ralph Rhodes, son of the bank president, decided it needed her property.
The Reverend Peet, the pastor of the leading church. He often spoke out as the town leaders wished, keeping quiet about many social ills. He was intelligent and well educated, reading Greek as easily as English. After his death, his household goods were auctioned off. The innkeeper bought and burned his sermons.
Indignation Jones, the town carpenter, who was proud of his pure Welsh stock. He was disheveled, with ragged clothes and matted hair. His life had been one disappointment after another. His wife was a slattern. His daughter, Minerva, the town poet, was ridiculed throughout her life for her heavy body and cockeye. After Butch Weldy brutally raped her, she died in an abortion attempt. After this, Indignation Jones simply crept through his life in “impotent revolt.”
Doc Meyers, the town doctor, a good-hearted and happy man, content with his life and family. His children were grown and doing well. After Minerva Jones died, he was indicted, and the newspapers pilloried him. He was disgraced, and his wife was unable to forgive him. He was rumored to be the father of Willie Metcalf, the town idiot, who looked a lot like him.
Butch Weldy, a laborer, wild and irresponsible in his youth. When drunk, he not only raped Minerva Jones but also caused an accident that killed Blind Jack, the fiddler. Later, he was blinded in an accident at the canning works. The judge ruled that he would not receive any compensation from the company or Ralph Rhodes, because a fellow worker caused the accident. As jury foreman, Butch helped find Roy Butler guilty of a rape he did not commit.
Mrs. Williams, a milliner, an attractive woman who caught the eye of many of the husbands in Spoon River. She thought it was up to wives to make themselves attractive for their husbands.
Jack McGuire, a friend of Butch Weldy, also wild and irresponsible. One night, while McGuire was walking home drunk, the town marshal, who bitterly opposed drinking, struck him with a club. McGuire killed him and was nearly lynched. He was sentenced to fourteen years in jail instead of life because his lawyer agreed to take pressure off Rhodes in a banking scandal in return for a lighter sentence for his client. He spread the rumors that Willie Metcalf was Doc Meyers' son.