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Norms of class and status, while still potent, are beginning to break down. To the distress of other members of her class, the patrician, Alicia Donning, is drawn to the drifter. Alicia is one of the strong women that Harris clearly admired, a competent and independent individual in a society in which those virtues were thought to be largely male prerogatives. Old Miss Partheny, too, is a central character, memorable for her courage, resourcefulness, and feisty language.
The author, a keen observer, has an extraordinary ear for dilogue, and her characters, black and white, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, good and bad, are presented in a warm and basically sympathetic way. "They are my creatures," she wrote of the characters in her novels. "Through these people I have confirmed something of the complexity of life, the dignity of man, the triumph of the human spirit."