Fenstad's Mother


In Fenstad?s Mother, by Charles Baxter, character is a very essential element to the story. The main character, Harry Fenstad, is a complicated person, but it is his mother, Mrs. Clara Fenstad, who I feel is a more important and complex person. In this brief paper, I will explain why it is my opinion that both of these characters play a crucial role in the story by complementing and developing each other?s character.
Fenstad career is a brochure writer, but he also teaches an extension English-composition class at the downtown campus of the state university. He attends church regularly, and his passion is ice skating. I know that these may seem like simple ways to describe a character I have referred to as complicated, but there is so much more that lies beneath these plain descriptions.
Fenstad says that he likes to teach because "he liked teaching strangers and because he enjoyed the sense of hope that classrooms held for him" (page 117). Harry seems to be a very distant person in that he likes to be around people who do not really know him. He would much rather be an observer than a very active participant. When he goes ice skating in the beginning of the story, there are a lot of people who are skating, but he can blend right in. He hs a few friends, but they are very similar to Fenstad. They like the same things and have the same attitudes about life. Fenstad does not want to seem to deviate from his own normal way of life.
Fenstad?s mother, Clara, is a character quite opposite from her son. She is older and does not get out of her house much. She used to be very active in politics and loves to be around people. She has a kindness and generosity that instantly attracts other people. When she begins to visit Fenstad?s logic class, the students seem to be more interested in what she has to say than in what Fenstad is trying to teach. Mrs. Fenstad is aware and understands her own magnetism and tries not to take too much attention away from her son.
The two characters help each other develop throughout the story. Fenstad is a person who is very reluctant to change, whereas his mother is an individual whose mind is always open to new possibilities. It did not surprise me that Mrs. Fenstad and York Follette, a student in Fenstad?s class, instantly become friends. Follette is a different person: he is African American, he thinks on a different political plane, he listens to music that Mrs. Fenstad is not all to familiar with. Mrs. Fenstad says that she wants to meet Follette after hearing about him from Fenstad. In my imagination (because there is only one scene when Mrs. Fenstad and Follette have any actual dialogue), Follette probably thought he could learn as much from Mrs. Fenstad as she could learn from him.
One of the scenes where it is evident how unlike the two main characters are is when they are at Country Bob?s, a restaurant. A homeless woman comes up to the two and asks if they can spare any change. Mrs. Fenstad instantly feels compassion for the woman and offers her the coat that she is wearing. Fenstad is almost appalled by the audacity of the homeless woman and by his mother?s action. He begs his mother not to give her coat to the woman. It is obvious that he is very uncomfortable and disturbed by the situation. He sees his mother?s generosity and realizes that that is something he innately lacks. He shoves two twenty dollar bills into the homeless woman?s hand as he pleads with her to leave. Fenstad seems to feel disgusted by this woman rather than sorry for her. His mother, on the other hand, sees a person in need, and she wants to do what she can to help. She sacrifices her own comfort and warmth to give those same feelings to another human being. Fenstad is not selfish, but more like most of the people of the world; he thinks of himself before he thinks of the well-being of others.
Even though the two characters are very different, they also have many similarities. They both