The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Gertrude Stein

First published: 1925; abridged, 1934

Genre: Novel

Locale: Bridgepoint (Baltimore) and Gossols (Oakland)

Plot: Psychological realism

Time: Probably the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Henry Dehning, a rich merchant. Although he is of medium height, his facial features denote strength: a firm chin, a strong, curved nose, and coarse, bushy eyebrows. These are matched by square shoulders and a stocky body, both of which belie his agility in movement and gentle temper. He is of immigrant parents and is a self-made man. In his business dealings, he is firm, careful, practical, and basically honest. In love, he does not mind feeling owned; in fact, he likes somewhat aggressive women. As a successful patriarch, he likes giving kindly advice, which tends to be sprinkled with Old World wisdom despite his many years spent in America.

Jenny Dehning, Henry Dehning's wife. She is a fair woman, heavy but attractive. She has a healthy, prosperous look about her. Her pride in her husband's success does not prevent her from upbraiding him for his lapses in social niceties. She is usually cheerful, but at times she can be crude, harsh, aggressive, and filled with her own importance.

Julia Dehning, the eldest daughter of Henry and Jenny Dehning. Fair like her mother, she radiates the energy, vigor, and daring that come from a pampered existence. Her father adores her. From her grandparents' tradition, she inherited a need for romance and passion. She thinks that she has a taste for adventure and the more refined experiences of life, which is what attracts her to Alfred Hersland; however, the core of her being is not really adventurous or passionate. Like her father, a part of Julia resists learning or change.

David Hersland, a successful businessman. He is a big man, with small, brown, piercing eyes covered by long, rough eyebrows. He inherited his mother's strength, which helped make him a success. His father, however, was a weak and uncertain man, and because of this mixture of traits, he begins projects with vigor but often has trouble completing them. He can also be quite impatient and irritable. Although he devotes much thought to his children's education, he ignores his wife.

Fanny Hissen, David Hersland's wife, small and mild-mannered. From a well-to-do family, she lives a rather isolated life after moving to Gossols with David. Understandably, her world centers on her family life. She is never really important to her husband, and as their children grow older, she diminishes in importance to them. Despite her mild demeanor, she carries a streak of stubbornness that sometimes turns her into a peevishly domineering mother and employer.

Martha Hersland, the eldest child of David Hersland. She is somewhat attractive, small, and has blue eyes and a pleasant manner. She resembles her father in that she likes to feel important and is competitive. Unlike him, however, she can usually finish what she begins. Her assertive demeanor hides a lack of intelligence that prevents her from really understanding life. She marries Phillip Redfern, but the marriage is an unhappy one. After his death, she returns home to her father.

Alfred Hersland, the son of David Hersland. Well dressed, with strong, attractive features, he carries himself with a certain dignity and grace and thinks that he has a passion and strength for living, like his father. He desires the distinction of someone who cares about elegance and beauty in art and living. In actuality, however, he cannot sense things deeply or learn from experience. He is never either completely a success or completely a failure in life.

Categories: Characters