Study Guide

The Kids (Ollie, Betsy, and Agnes Ward) in Angle of Repose

By Wallace Stegner

The Kids (Ollie, Betsy, and Agnes Ward)

Let's get one thing straight—Lyman Ward is writing a book about his grandparents, not their children. Because of this, we don't actually learn much about Ollie, Betsy, and Agnes as individuals.

What we do learn is how their parents' tumultuous relationship affects them. Although each of the children is affected differently, they all bear the scars in one way or another:

  • Ollie (Lyman's father) is deeply affected on an emotional level. Lyman tells us that his dad was a "silent and difficult man," though we don't know at the time that this emotional detachment is due to Agnes' horrific death (5.1.1). To be honest, however, we're not sure if that's because he knows the truth behind it or simply because his mom shuffled him off to boarding school (for 10 years) just days after the tragedy.
  • Betsy, on the other hand, doesn't seem to comprehend what happened. We see evidence of this when she asks Oliver about her childhood memory of him pulling up rose bushes from around their house, unable to realize the symbolism of that act even in hindsight.
  • And then, there's Agnes. Of course, she's the most affected by her parents' marital troubles, having drowned while her mom was engaging in a tryst with Frank Sargent. In many ways, she's the price her parents pay for years of distrust and betrayal.

So, what are we to make of these sad stories? All we know is that Susan and Oliver's children are all deeply affected by their parents' marital strife, even if no one (Susan and Oliver included) realize it at the time. In that way, we think that the struggles of Ollie, Betsy, and Agnes reveal the truth behind Lyman's assertion that we are all the result of "moral errors that [we] defend as if they were personal and not familial" (1.1.3).