The Other Side Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1989

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Family

Time of work: 1895-1985

Locale: New York City and Ireland

Characters DiscussedVincent MacNamara

Vincent Other Side, TheMacNamara, an eighty-eight-year-old Irish immigrant. He is devout, intelligent, and loved by most people who meet him. He acts as the main cohesive force of his large family. Vincent loves his fiery wife, Ellen, but he no longer feels able to cope with her anger and fear. He is returning home, having spent nearly nine months in a nursing home after Ellen knocked him down and broke his hip. Vincent always has led a moral life and enjoys mechanical problems to occupy his mind. He loves his children and especially his grandchildren, Camille and Dan. Now, at the end of his life, he fears that he has allowed his wife to damage their children with her demands and contempt. At the same time, he remembers with joy the passionate love he and Ellen have shared. His promise to her that she will be allowed to die at home forces him to return to her.

Ellen MacNamara

Ellen MacNamara, Vincent’s wife. More than ninety years old, she is incoherent and bedridden from a series of strokes. She can understand only that Vincent seems to have left her. In her rage and terror, she can speak only curses and obscenities. As a young woman in Ireland, when she saw her father abusing her mother, she used her anger as an impetus to emigrate; she feels the same anger and contempt for the church. Her anger makes her treat most strangers as enemies. Her commitment to intellectual and social causes made her dismiss her two rather ordinary daughters; she often humiliated them and at last psychologically abandoned them in favor of two of her grandchildren, both of whom she stole from their mothers. She retains tenderness primarily for her grandson Dan, whose father was killed in World War II. Vincent has been the only positive force in her life, but his generous love makes her fear that even after sixty years of marriage he may well leave her. Her rage and urge to destroy her family are qualities that have reappeared in her offspring.

Daniel MacNamara

Daniel MacNamara, a lawyer in partnership with his cousin Cam. After his father was killed, Ellen drove his ineffectual mother away and reared her grandson herself. Daniel has inherited much of his grandfather Vincent’s skills in peacemaking; such harmony as now exists in the family comes mostly from Dan. In his youth, he was very close to Cam, and they still understand each other well, although each has a life that the other does not share. He treasures a memory of his childhood closeness to his grandmother. Since the failure of his marriage twelve years ago, Dan has lived with Sharon Breen, a secretary from his law office. For a month each summer, his difficult teenage daughters, Darci and Staci, live with him as well.

Camille (Cam) MacNamara Ulichni

Camille (Cam) MacNamara Ulichni, a lawyer, Dan’s partner. She inherited Ellen’s strength and fire. After her father’s death, eight-year-old Cam soon saw her mother’s limitations and turned to her grandparents, especially to Vincent, for the emotional support she needed. Her love for her mother always has been strongly colored by her contempt for her mother’s weakness, but when her mother’s health seemed in danger, Cam abandoned her own plans to work for social justice and instead married Bob Ulichni and joined her cousin in practicing law. Her relationship with her husband, never close, is even more distant now that she has begun a love affair with Ira Silverman.

Magdalene

Magdalene, Cam’s mother, Ellen and Vincent’s oldest daughter. She owns a fashionable beauty salon. She has been waiting to die since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1965. She rarely leaves her room and spends the day drinking sherry and trying on clothes. She is afraid of Ellen and is angry and self-pitying about her daughter’s lack of sympathy. She cannot believe that she has been healed.

Theresa

Theresa, Vincent and Ellen’s second daughter, whose anger at her mother has deepened over the years. Now a charismatic Catholic who talks to the Holy Ghost, Theresa still seeks ways to humiliate her mother.

Marilyn

Marilyn, Theresa’s oldest daughter, a nurse. She has returned home briefly to help nurse her grandmother, partly out of gratitude for Ellen’s accepting attitude toward her mixed-race children. She dreads telling her mother that her third marriage has failed.

Sheilah

Sheilah, Theresa’s second daughter, a social worker devoted to her Irish heritage. Sheilah left her vocation as a nun to marry a priest she had met at a civil rights sit-in. Her desire to hurt and humiliate others masks her deep longing for love.

John

John, Theresa’s son, who is aimless, dissolute, angry, and possibly dangerous. At the age of thirty-seven, he has come home to live with his parents.

BibliographyBennet, Alma. Mary Gordon. New York: Twayne, 1996. In this first book-length study of Mary Gordon, Bennet draws on personal interviews with Gordon as well as other primary and secondary resources to provide students and scholars with a comprehensive introduction to Gordon’s work. Includes excellent resources in chronology, notes and references, bibliography, and index sections.Cooper-Clark, Diana. “An Interview with Mary Gordon.” Commonweal 107 (May 9, 1980): 270-273. In this early interview, Gordon discusses Final Payments as a Catholic novel and examines the religious novel in general. She considers issues relevant to The Other Side, including the Irish Catholic immigrant experience in America. She also reveals her own preferences in literature, her reaction to her critics, and what she likes best about her own work.Gordon, Mary. Interview by Patrick H. Samway. America 170 (May 14, 1994): 12-15. A revealing glimpse of Gordon’s childhood, Catholic education, and writing career. Although she does not specifically address The Other Side, this illuminating interview sheds considerable light on the major themes in her works.Gordon, Mary. “Radical Damage: An Interview with Mary Gordon.” Interview by M. Deiter Keyishian. The Literary Review 32 (Fall, 1988): 69-82. Gordon discusses her collection of short stories Temporary Shelter (1987). Commenting on writing about women and children, she asserts that “to write about women and children is to be immediately ghettoized. . . .” She also reveals her own literary likes (which include Marguerite Duras and the German writer Christa Wolfe) and dislikes (which include Joseph Conrad and John Updike).Liddy, James. “The Double Vision of Irish-American Fiction.” Eire-Ireland 19 (Winter, 1984): 6-15. An examination of Irish American fiction; helpful in understanding Gordon’s work. Liddy discusses those writers he classifies as Irish American (James T. Farrell, Edwin O’Connor, Jimmy Breslin, and Mary Gordon) as well as those he does not (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Connor).Mahon, John. “Mary Gordon: The Struggle with Love.” In American Women Writing Fiction: Memory, Identity, Family, Space, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989. A study of Final Payments, The Company of Women, and Men and Angels in terms of their religious motifs. Includes a bibliography of Gordon’s work, including books, poems, articles, reviews, and stories, and a bibliography of writing about her.Ward, Catherine. “Wake Homes: Four Modern Novels of the Irish American Family.” Eire-Ireland 26 (Summer, 1991): 78-91. An examination of four Irish American novels by women, including The Other Side. Ward reveals “how later generations try to escape the stultifying ties to family and church that had served the needs of their parents and grandparents but now threaten to overwhelm them.” A straightforward evaluation of the novel as a study of the Irish American family.
Categories: Characters