Taylor is an independent, young woman who has always been able to take care of herself. She spent her entire youth avoiding pregnancy, only to find herself an instant mother one night at a bar in Oklahoma. She plays a "mother bear" kind of role in the novel: she will go to any means to protect her daughter, and to keep Turtle with her. All Taylor's actions are motivated by this conviction. Jax says at one point that Taylor "enjoys" him, but she "loves" Turtle. Indeed, Taylor instinctually reacts in terms of Turtle, and not in terms of Jax. On her dates in Seattle, she does not even consider leaving Turtle at home. She is an uncompromising and determined mother.
Taylor does change over the course of the novel. When she has a run of bad luck and hardship, she starts to doubt her own capabilities. She doubts her own mothering ability and even makes deprecatory remarks about her figure—something she has never done before. The novel's aim is not to devalue her self-confidence, nor to suggest she is incapable. Rather, Taylor represents the idea that even the most independent, capable people need a family. The novel suggests that needing other people for moral or even economic support is not a sign of weakness. In some ways she needs the Cherokee Nation without knowing it.
Annawake and Taylor make up an interesting duality in the book. Indeed, they have strikingly similar personalities. Annawake is young, like Taylor, probably in her mid to late twenties. They are both independent women, with no need for a man in their lives. Although Taylor is with Jax, she never feels dependent on him. Both have the same youthful determination and idealism. These two women are too alike to be able to get along. They are both fighters who refuse to concede.
Like Taylor, Annawake is motivated by her familial attachments. While Taylor makes all decisions based on Turtle, Annawake makes her decisions out of love for her brother Gabe. Both, in a sense, act in a way that dramatizes their attachments. Annawake does not seem to appreciate fully the bond between mother and child, but her actions reflect the bond between brother and sister. She calls Gabe "her other wing" and still feels a pain in her side where he was ripped apart from her. Although Gabe is Annawake's personal motivation, she acts out the atrocities waged against her people over hundreds of years. Indeed, Gabe is symbolic of all the Native Americans who have fallen victim to white America. Annawake is thus motivated also by a history of holocaust and atrocity. In an idealistic way, she sees cases like Turtle's as her opportunity to make up for this history.
Part of the novel's aim is to present stories of two cultures, living within the same country, that live entirely differently from one another. Annawake serves the role of representing her culture's history. She is as important to the book for her idealism and law degree as she is for her determination. Although the other Cherokee characters can dramatize what modern Native American life is like, only someone with Annawake's educational background can offer detailed insight into Native American history and legal battles. Through Annawake, the reader feels the full force of white America's attack on Native American people.
Like Taylor, Annawake also changes over the course of the novel. She tells Alice at the end of the novel that Annawake has experienced her first moral crisis. Through hounding down Turtle's case, Annawake learned that the answers are not as clear as she once thought. She appreciates more the strength of Taylor's love for Turtle, and the security that Turtle has gained in a non- Cherokee home. Even for someone living out the tragedy of her lost brother, the answers become less clear.
Although Alice is in her sixties, she is one of the gutsiest characters in the novel. She takes a risk that women half her age are often reluctant to take, leaving her husband and the only home she knows in the hope that she will find a life that offers more warmth and communion. Her journey to find this new life adds a rich subplot to the novel. Alice's entrance into the Cherokee community represents the way that she is seeking out the experiences and places that Harland is happy to merely watch on T.V. Alice undergoes a bit of a personal transformation as she experiences a whole new way of life, and reaches beyond the boundaries of her old self. She thinks, for instance, that she would never go pick poke like Sugar does, since anyone who saw her would think her crazy. Now she is in a place where no one judges "crazy" quite so quickly.
Alice's character also helps develop the motherhood themes in the novel, since Alice, like Taylor, will do anything for her daughter. She does not for a second question her loyalties when she finds out Cash's relationship to Turtle; she stands firm beside her daughter.
Alice's character provides the novel a way into the Cherokee Nation, familiarizing the reader with this other world, before Turtle and Taylor arrive there. In many ways, Alice mediates between the two worlds. In the end, she is literally the bond that bridges Taylor with the Cherokee people. Her character allows the white world and the Cherokee world to become one legal family through her marriage to Cash.
Cash in many ways represents the suffering that so many Native American people experience due to a culture clash with white America. His response to his family tragedies is to prove himself successful in a white man's world. He dreams of new moneymaking schemes that never pan out, and never finds happiness outside the Nation. He is in many ways the victim of Harland's T.V. marketing world. He is lured by the promise of material success and the glitz of a tourist town. Cash changes over the course of the novel. The second suicide in his life seems to call him back to his family's home, and also reminds him of money's failure to provide a fulfilling life.
Cash's life in many ways parallels Alice's life, and their struggles with loneliness mirror one another. Alice still has somewhat of a nuclear family, but lacks communal warmth. Cash has lost his nuclear family, but has a community where he always knows he is welcome. Alice has Taylor and Turtle who will now share Cash's life with him, and Cash has the Cherokee community, which offers Alice a sense of inclusion.