The Women’s Room Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Marilyn French

First published: 1977

Genre: Novel

Locale: A New Jersey suburb and Cambridge, Massachusetts

Plot: Social realism

Time: Primarily 1968–1970, with extended flashbacks to the early decades of Mira's life

Mira, a graduate student in the English department at Harvard who is the divorced mother of two sons. She is older than most of the other graduate students, having gone back to school at the age of thirty-eight, yet the younger women seem much more comfortable with themselves. It is not until she becomes part of a small circle of friends at Harvard that she begins to see her personal life in terms of feminist politics: Her consciousness is raised. From that perspective, she looks back at her earlier self with scorn. Although intelligent and a voracious reader, Mira accepted, almost without question, the limits put on her behavior and aspirations, first by her parents and later by her husband. Married to a wealthy man, living in a beautiful house, and dressed in lovely clothes, she considered herself successful until her husband asked her for a divorce. At Harvard, she makes friends who help her learn to trust herself and to challenge the limits others place on her.

Val, a graduate student in social science at Harvard and the divorced mother of a daughter. A year or so older than Mira, Val is tall, big-boned, flamboyant, and fleshy. She is known for her collection of capes from around the world. She talks loudly and authoritatively. At times, it seems as if Val has transformed every one of her experiences into theory. Val is more politically involved than the others. Eventually, her politics force her to take an uncompromising stand on women's rights, and she is killed as a result.

Isolde, a graduate student in English at Harvard. She is a lesbian in her mid-twenties, tall, and very thin, with pale green eyes. She is central to the group, providing its source of creative energy. Iso is able to see the positive side of everyone. Mira and others often go to her when they need someone with whom to talk.

Ava, Isolde's lover for four years. Very shy, tall, and willowy, Ava leaves Iso to study dance in New York City.

Clarissa, an English graduate student at Harvard in her early twenties. Reared by liberal and educated parents, happy, and content with herself, Clarissa seems to be the embodiment of that for which the others strive, yet clouds appear on her horizon: Her husband expects her to do all the housework even as she is studying for her doctoral orals.

Kyla Forrester, an English graduate student at Harvard in her early twenties. She is short, with long, straight red hair, wide blue eyes, and an oval face. A perfectionist, she smokes incessantly when nervous. Her husband's lack of support for her studies causes her to doubt herself, to drink too much, and to succumb to hysteria and weeping.

Christine (Chris) Truax, Val's teenage daughter. She is very close to her mother. Chris's rape and her harsh treatment by the police and the courts transform Val's politics irrevocably.

Ben Voler, Mira's lover, an expert on the (fictional) African country Lianu. Ben is in his mid-thirties, with a dark complexion and a large, round face. He is extremely supportive of Mira's work until he gets the opportunity to return to Lianu.

Tadziewski (Tad), Val's lover. In his mid-twenties, Tad is fair, blue-eyed, gangly, and sensitive. He falls madly in love with Val. When she informs him that she will continue to have other lovers, he throws a hysterical jealous fit that ends the relationship.

Norm, Mira's husband, a physician. He is handsome but un-feeling and shallow.

Martha, Mira's friend during her years of marriage. Foulmouthed and refreshingly honest, Martha brags about her “built-in shit detector.” She has returned to college and intends to go to law school. When her affair with her French professor ends, she attempts suicide and is never the same afterward.

Categories: Characters