The Long Valley
Wife of Henry Allen and gifted gardener, Elisa is described as having "planting hands". She possesses a natural ability to garden and she feels quite passionately about it. Steinbeck describes Elisa in very masculine terms ("strong," "mature and handsome") and it seems her husband is unable to recognize her femininity. Elisa is sheltered behind her garden gate at the beginning of the story, but makes herself vulnerable when she describes her passion for gardening and her secret longing for a different kind of life to a roving handyman. Though Elisa shows sparks of emotional and psychological strength in the story, ultimately her perception of herself as a "strong" woman is shattered when she realizes she has been duped by the handyman who has simply discarded her sprouts, representative of her creative abilities and desires, in the roadway.
Husband to Elisa, Henry definitely seems more knowledgeable about his business interests than his wife's well-being. He recognizes her immense talent with gardening, but only half-heartedly invites her into the masculine world of the orchard to help raise apples. He seems perplexed by his wife and blunders in his attempts to compliment her. He dissuades Elisa from attending the "fights" in Salinas as that is no place for a woman (much like the orchard). Though driven by typical masculine ideals of womanhood, Henry is generally affable—even if he is oblivious to his wife's psychological and emotional needs.
Uneducated, a huckster, but still perceptive of Elisa's interests, the traveling handyman is able to take advantage of Elisa for his own benefit. To Elisa, he represents the allure of an unconventional lifestyle—a romanticized and passionate one. He is the vehicle through which Elisa is finally dejected as she realizes he simply duped her and irreverently tossed her sprouts, and symbolically, her talents and desires, into the roadway.
"The White Quail"
A bit self-delusional, Mary Teller strongly identifies with her garden and the white quail. For Mary, the garden embodies her intense desire for order. It keeps out "the enemy," as she calls it, or all that is "rough and tangled and unkempt". Harry sees the garden as a representation of the inner workings of Mary's mind. As such, the garden may be Mary's attempt to ward off mental instability. Steinbeck implies Mary is mentally unstable when she tells Harry her mind is not so "awfully sure" of itself, when she experiences the odd double vision of herself when she is out in her garden one night, and when she spots the white quail. Mary is attracted to the white quail as she believes it embodies her uniqueness, her strangeness, and her majesty. She sees it as a representation of what "was" pure and beautiful inside herself, indicating what is there now might not be so pretty, and she therefore wants to protect the beautiful remnants from the cat, or the evil (insanity) that is lurking right outside her garden.
Henry E. Teller
Harry, seemingly daft, is perplexed yet respectful of his wife, whom he thinks is quite "collected," though apparently nothing could be farther from the truth. Harry defers to his wife's whimsies about her garden and denies his own desires when she will not allow him to have a dog and when she locks him out of her room at night. Eventually, Harry rebels, killing the white quail his wife is so enamored of, though he feels guilty afterwards. He breaks down at the end and admits to himself that he is extremely lonely as he is ostracized by his emotionally detached wife who has simply used him as an instrument to obtain and maintain her garden.
Mama Torres is described as a "lean, dry woman with ancient eyes". She has run the small subsistence farm her family lives on for the last ten years since the death of her husband. She doubts her son's maturity, but she nonetheless sends him to Monterey to obtain medicine and salt. She becomes "fierce" when Pepé needs her help and she prepares him for his departure into the mountains after he has killed a man. She formally mourns Pepé after his departure, crying "Our beautiful—our brave, he is gone". Mama Torres states the story's theme when she tells Emilio: "A boy gets to be a man when a man is needed" (32).
Emilio and Rosy Torres
Young and seemingly innocent children, Emilio and Rosy are Pepé's younger siblings. They are oblivious to Pepé's struggle, but help prepare their brother's horse for his "man's thing to do" (34). Emilio expresses his desire to ride to Monterey one day and become a man just like Pepé. Rosy foreshadows Pepé's death when she tells her brother, "He is not dead, [. . .] Not yet".
Pepé, the nineteen year old protagonist, is "loose and gangling" (28-29). He is described as having "[. . .] sharp Indian cheek bones and an eagle nose, but his mouth was as sweet and shapely as a girl's mouth, and his chin was fragile and chiseled". Innocent at first, his trip into Monterrey jades him after he ends up killing a man. He returns home a changed person: "The fragile quality seemed to have gone from his chin". His once laughing and childlike eyes are now "sharp and bright and purposeful". As he journeys further into the wilderness, Pepé seems to degenerate, leaving behind the vestiges of humanity and taking on the characteristics of animals, until finally, he stops running and faces his pursuers like a man at the end the of story.
Dr. Phillips is preoccupied with scientific knowledge. While he can justify killing animals, like the cat and starfish, to obtain knowledge, he is horrified by the thought of killing anything for pleasure. As a scientist, he acts on a rigorous schedule and is annoyed by interruptions. He is taken aback by the fascination and gratification the woman receives by watching the snake eat. He feels bad for feeding the snake at her request since it is merely to satisfy a curiosity that seems to have more to do with a perverse desire than science.
The woman is described as snake-like herself, with dark, unseeing eyes. She is intensely fascinated by the killing and eating processes of the snake. She seems almost sexually aroused in comparison to Dr. Phillips who watches the reproductive cycle of starfish with a detached, objective eye in order to record his empirical observations. Interested only in ownership of the snake and witnessing it being fed, she does not look into Dr. Phillips microscope to view the reproductive cycle of the starfish, which surprises him, since "People always wanted to look through the glass". She disappears as mysteriously as she came.
The narrator, of whom readers learn virtually nothing about, whimsically recalls joining a family for breakfast and the warmth and pleasure he experiences when remembering the incident. He comes across and appreciative and nostalgic.
The woman, who is actually more of a "girl," gracefully cooks breakfast while nursing her newborn with "precise and practiced" movements.
The two men, one young and one old, are nearly the spitting image of one another and are distinguishable by the color of their beards—one dark stubble, the other grey stubble. They invite the narrator to dine and accompany them to work with a naturalness that indicates that are used to graciously sharing what they have—no matter how meager that may be.
Dick, the wizened, older man, is scornful and quick to insult his youthful companion's inexperience. Cold, calculating, and outwardly afraid of nothing, he manages to make use of any calamity in order to support the workings of the Communist Party. He despises religion, what he calls "the opium of the people".
Dick's young apprentice, Root, fearfully awaits his fate. He places all of his trust in the hands of his companion Dick. Though he fears he might run when faced with the prospect of a beating, Root stands courageously and takes a pummeling from the raiding party. When he ends up badly beaten in the hospital, he thinks of forgiving his attackers like Christ, but is warned by Dick not to rely on religion. His name may refer to his sacrificial actions (taking a beating for the party) from which readers are to assume some good may sprout.
Outwardly, Peter Randall is a pillar of his community--a respected farmer and devoted husband who cares for his invalid wife. Almost 50, with a grave and restrained demeanor, he is tall, broad, and carries himself well. But inwardly, he has a secret life that eats away at his composure. He sees himself as a drunken and profligate fraud responsible for his wife's illness and death. Though he is plagued by guilt, he cannot seem to escape his pattern of behavior, which he still participates in even after Emma's death. He blames her for influencing him from beyond the grave.
A thin wisp of a woman, Emma exerts her will on her husband and her household, though she is withered and ill. Though she says nothing, she is well aware of her husband's once a year transgressions and makes him pay for them through extended illnesses upon his return. Her tactic is so successful that Peter still feels burdened by guilt long after her death.
Ed Chappell, a neighboring farmer, stays with Peter during the aftermath of Emma's death. Ed listens to Peter's confession with a sense of embarrassment and shame and resolves to keep it to himself. He happens upon a drunken and shamed Peter in San Francisco and puts him to bed.
Though he actively participated in the lynching, Mike appears to be in some doubt about his behavior even though he seems to agree that the man, who the papers describe as a "fiend," deserved a terrible death. Mike is disturbed by his emotional disconnection from the event and feels lonely once separated from the mob that motivated his participation in the lynching.
The curious bartender Welch questions Mike about the lynch mob and seeks to use the event for his own benefit. He opens the bar assuming members of the lynch mob might want a beer afterwards and he bribes Mike for a piece of the cloth from the victim's pants to display in the bar as a trophy in hopes it might draw an interested crowd. Though his behavior seems despicable on one hand, he is the character who questions the justice of the lynching and wonders if the victim truly deserved to die.
As a construction worker who lives in an inhospitable boarding house, the lonely narrator often seeks the company of other men at the Buffalo Bar. He is both intrigued and repulsed by Johnny Bear. He initially goads Johnny Bear into performing and defends Johnny Bear against Alex, who wants to shoot him, since he is innocent of the trouble he causes. He eventually learns, like everyone else in town, that there are some things you just do not want to know about people.
Alex is the defender of community righteousness. He defends the honor of the Hawkins women since he deems their perceived purity as necessary to the town. To him, they are a "symbol" of goodness, wholesomeness, and morality. He strikes Johnny Bear to prevent him from further destroying that image after Miss Amy's suicide since the village of Loma, isolated in a foggy wilderness, requires the unstained image of the Hawkins women for its own peace of mind.
Amy and Emalin Hawkins
The two women are the village's aristocracy. They are looked up to as moral pillars of the community. Amy, whose "edges were soft," is the opposite of her sister. Emalin is marked by her "[. . .] clear straight eyes, the sharp sure chin, the mouth cut with the precision of a diamond, the stiff, curveless figure. Unlike her stiff sister, Amy's upright stiffness seems forced. Johnny Bear's pantomime reveals Amy was pregnant when she committed suicide. Alex intimates she was pregnant by one of her Chinese workmen.
Fat Carl is the proprietor and bartender at the Buffalo Bar. Sullen and "phlegmatic," he manages to sell whiskey, his only ware, easily to the bored and lonely villagers of Loma.
Aptly named, Johnny Bear resembles an animal in both his features and movements. He is a savant capable of mimicking the most subtle and nuanced of voices and conversations. He earns his whiskey by acting out eavesdropped conversations for the bar's patrons. Though Alex attacks Johnny Bear for his behavior, it seems he is taken advantage of by the villagers for the purpose of their own entertainment. He is in a sense a clown for the villagers and ultimately both Johnny Bear and the villagers are hurt by the spectacle they make of him.
Though Jim seems mild-mannered and scoffs at his father-in-law's advice to beat his wife, he takes it after he finds her in bed with her cousin. He also becomes enraged enough to shoot the man in the head. The end of the story implies Jim will beat his wife again in the future to keep her in line—even when she is being "good," as his father-in-law suggested. Though Jim was once ashamed of his foreign wife and family, readers learn at the very beginning of the tale that Jim now looks upon his wife with pride: "He knows that when he goes to town with his plump and still pretty wife, people turn and look at his retreating back with awe and some admiration". He is protective of the old, ruined house in which he shot Jelka's cousin since it is an "important piece of his life".
A beautiful Jugo-Slav girl, Jelka has a thin nose, deep, soft lips, and smooth shoulders. Though seemingly she is the perfect, docile housewife, she cheats on her husband with her cousin and endures a whipping from him for it. She seems pleased after she is whipped and seeks assurance that there will be future whippings at the end of the story. Thus she proves her father's assertion that "Slav girl! He's not like a man that don't beat hell out of him" is correct.
"Saint Katy the Virgin"
A bad man who laughs at others' misfortunes, Roark makes Katy the pig the bad, satanic entity she becomes through his evil influence. He too is converted to goodness after he witnesses Katy's conversion.
A pig whose lineage is untainted, Katy only becomes evil thanks to her proximity to Roark. Her evil eyes and clicking teeth carry the mark of the devil. She is miraculously converted, becomes a saint, and is eventually declared a virgin.
The priest who converts Katy is all fire and brimstone, concerned with his place in heaven, and beset with obsequiousness towards Church authority.
A man who believes that faith without works is dead, he questions Paul's attempt at exorcism, but is happy when it works. He wants to make sausage out of Katy.