Clyde’s mother believes in a merciful God Almighty. She believes also that through her faith and good works she has been called upon to spread the word of God. Though preoccupied with saving souls, she deeply loves her children, knowing full well that they carry the weaknesses and sins of all mankind. Shabbily dressed and housed, she believes in struggling and suffering for the glory of God and salvation, not for vanity and material gain. So possessed is she by spiritual fervor that she is unable to comprehend the degree of Clyde’s secular dreams.
Her own dreams began to form after she fell in love with the visionary Asa Griffiths. As an ignorant farm girl, she had given little thought to religion. But inoculated by the “virus” of evangelism, she joined in her husband’s religious adventures to illusory greener fields. Before Kansas City, Denver, and San Francisco, the Griffithses had conducted missions or preached in the streets of Grand Rapids, Detroit, Milwaukee, Quincy, and Chicago. Like her husband, Elvira is ignorant of their children’s need for practical or professional training.
In spite of her pains, this extreme Protestant remains optimistic. She tries to solve family problems and professional difficulties through her prayers. Sublimating her own drives, Elvira views the physical world as the devil’s playground, where evil delights tempt the innocent and the unwary. She intuits an eternal afterlife. Yet when her maternal instinct is aroused, she yearns to save her children from disgrace and death.
Her motives in trying to save Esta and Clyde are good, but Clyde’s need tests her resources to the limit, especially since she doubts his truthfulness. In an effort to save him, she exposes herself to the glare of publicity and to the stings of ridicule. Although she fails to save Clyde’s life, she benefits Esta. By her courageous act of adopting Esta’s illegitimate child, however, she brings upon herself the torment of living a lie.
Still believing in a beneficent Deity, she prays for the salvation of Clyde’s soul. In fact, her faith is not only intact but stronger because of her suffering. Elvira comes to sense the powerful influence of the Green-Davidson, the pleasure-seeking companions, fugitiveness, sexual temptation, and high society on her weak son. She also realizes how little she helped Clyde prepare for life in this world. For his sake, she gives her grandson Russell a dime for ice cream.