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What's It All About?
"Flowers in the Attic" by V.C. Andrews is viewed as a pretty controversial book because it touches on incest and child abuse, a theme that runs through the story of the Dollanganger/Foxworth family. It is the first book in the series which features the Dollanganger children and it is filled with family conflicts, sibling relationships, betrayal and other delicious angst. The characters of "Flowers in the Attic" make up a complex cast.
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Catherine Leigh Dollanganger, aka Cathy
In the cast of characters, Cathy Dolanganger is the narrator of the book. At the beginning of the story, our protagonist is just 12 years old and is the second child of four children in the Dollanganger household. The story starts out pretty well, and Cathy sounds like a pre-teen still seeing through the rosy glasses of childhood. Life is perfect until her beloved father dies. Despite her sadness, there is a flicker of anticipation as they move to a new place, her mother’s childhood home.
Cathy is particularly in awe of her beautiful mother in the beginning of the book, but as things gradually turn for the worse, she begins to loathe her. The events that lead to their being in the attic and their grandmother’s mistrust and hatred toward them leaves Cathy with a stronger bond to her siblings. The bond is even more reinforced with her brother Chris as they grow older and they take on the roles of parents to their brother and sister.
Even though Cathy is trapped in the attic, she is a mixture of contradictions. She vacillates between hope that everything will be fine again as they remember and despair that they will be trapped in the attic forever. She also has mixed feelings toward her mother’s new husband—she kisses him on the lips while he is asleep—and yet a kind of jealousy and bitterness toward her mother because of her new marriage. This is not only because of her abandonment of them, but because she covets her mother’s husband, too.
Her closeness to Chris takes a new turn especially after they become intimate. This provokes confusion in Cathy and a stronger bond with Chris as they plan and plot their escape from Foxworth Hall.
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Chris Dollanganger, Jr.
Chris is intelligent and the backbone behind his little family, the eldest offspring of Christopher Sr. and Corrine. He refuses to believe that his mother is guilty of abandoning them when she leaves them in the attic for months on end without word from her. He continues to think the best of her, long after Cathy has given up on her.
Older than Cathy by two years, he is dependable and resourceful. He wants to be a doctor so he reads all the books in the attic based on the medical area. He is also very defiant against all odds as he refuses to cut Cathy’s hair when the grandmother asks him to do it.
He is a planner as he replicates the key to his mother’s room and plots their escape from their attic prison. He is a survivor, and after his grandmother’s attempt at starving them, he cuts his wrist so that his siblings can drink his blood. His character is very strong and defined and yet, even when he becomes jealous of Cathy and rapes her, this is rendered as a flaw of his upbringing instead of an innate personal flaw.
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Corrine Dollanganger (née Foxworth)
Corrine is portrayed pretty sympathetically in the beginning of the book. A widow with four children and no skills to survive, she returns to her parent’s house. Unfortunately, the circumstances under which she previously left the house mean that she has to hide her children from her father.
Initially, she starts working at secretarial college so that she will have a skill to take care of her brood but that desire is quickly put to rest when she decides to wait for her father’s death and the inheritance that will come with it. She quickly descends into a selfish, money-hungry murderess as she aids and abets with her mother to hide and to kill her children gradually.
Even after her father’s death, she remarries her father’s lawyer and quickly forgets her children. She descends pretty quickly in the book as a hated antagonist as she rapidly forgets her children and her life before Foxworth Hall.
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Twin brother to Carrie, Cory is an introvert and also musically inclined. Unfortunately for Cory, he becomes victim to his grandmother’s plot to destroy them by poison and is poisoned by arsenic in his food. His death is gradual and causes a lot of angst among the children as they fuss over his too thin state and his wan disposition.
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Cory’s twin sister is extroverted and very girly in her outlook. Cory’s death makes her withdraw and her personality gradually changes, especially after he dies.
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Bartholomew Winslow, Sr.
Corrine’s second husband, his part in the story is really defined through Cathy’s eyes. Eight years younger than his wife, he is blissfully unaware that Corrine has any children and that they are living in the attic. He later leaves Foxworth Hall with his wife.
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Olivia Foxworth (née Winfield)
She is the wife of Malcolm Foxworth, grandmother of the Dollanganger children and cousin of John Amos. Olivia is the proverbial wicked stepmother who hates her grandchildren with religious fervor. In this case, she is the wicked grandmother of the children. On one hand, she is trying to cover up her daughter Corrine’s "mistakes" as she calls the children, showing her love for her daughter. And yet, on the other hand, she is pure evil to the children, even managing to poison Cory and attempting to poison the rest of them.
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Father of Corrine and grandfather of the Dollanganger children, he is described as heartless and unforgiving. The root of his behavior is revealed to be the fact that his half-brother had an affair with his daughter Corrine and they both left Foxworth Hall when they were found out. He decrees in his will that Corrine cannot inherit if she has any children from that relationship. He dies of a heart attack in the book and this event is found out by the children long after it happens.
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Christopher Dollanganger, Sr.
Killed in a car accident at the very beginning of the book, we only get a glimpse of Chris Sr. through Cathy’s eyes. He is Corrine's first husband and a very loving father to his children. In the first part of the book, his interactions with Cathy are very sensitive to her feelings when she jealously thinks about not being his favorite daughter after the new children arrive. Christopher Sr. is also Malcolm's younger half-brother which makes him Corrine’s uncle. He is described as very caring and thoughtful to his children and wife; when he dies, things just fall apart for the whole family.
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Butler to the Foxworth family and Olivia's cousin.
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There is a dark underbelly of the worst of human emotions and reactions in the book, and this darkness seems to touch the characters of "Flowers in the Attic." Even the children who are pawns in the game of betrayal and secrets are not totally left unscathed.
- V. C. Andrews, (1979). Flowers In The Attic, Simon & Schuster.