With her black hair "parted exactly" and her "imperious mien," Elizabeth Bates stands as a figure of middle-class respectability in the midst of a working-class setting. That she is pregnant suggests both her vulnerability as a woman and her strong connection to Walter Bates in spite of her disdain for his behavior. It also aligns her more strongly with the natural world than the industrial one. At the outset of the story, Elizabeth behaves in every sense as though she believes her husband belongs to her, fitting in snugly with the ideas of her time and culture, but by the end of the story, her illusions about being "one flesh" with her husband are shattered by his death.
Young John Bates repeatedly resists his mother's will, heeding her call reluctantly and later demanding she light the lamp, which she views as an indulgence. When she does so, Elizabeth remarks, "you're as bad as your father," suggesting the boy represents a younger version of Walter Bates.
Annie Bates hints at her mother's younger and softer self when she inhales the odor of the chrysanthemums rapturously. Her querulousness when her father is brought open anticipates her future self, her mother's likeness.
Old Mrs. Bates
Tolerant and softhearted, Walter Bates's mother openly grieves her son's death. She acknowledges Elizabeth has had a hard life with Walt but maintains he was "a happy lad at home, only full of spirits."
Although he never appears as a living character, carefree and indulgent Walter Bates nonetheless shapes characters' decisions and reactions. As his wife Elizabeth readies his body for death, she reflects with shame she "had denied him what he was."