Ellen's grandmother is a wealthy, miserly woman who is unfailingly bitter and vengeful. Her only desires seem to be power, money, and revenge. Although she has seldom spoken to Ellen in her life, she battles for her custody, as she wants to get back at Ellen's father for the harm he has caused her daughter, Ellen's mother. While Ellen had still been living with her father, she had hired Rudolph and Ellis, Ellen's uncles on her father's side, to spy on them and report back to her on their activities. She is exceptionally underhanded and will do anything to get revenge on Ellen's father for his abuse of her daughter, though she does not seem to care that Ellen must suffer too. During Ellen's stay, she is vicious and cruel, constantly berating Ellen for the likeness she bears to her father, which, the novel's other characters imply, is not true. Mama's mama is evil to the core, and it seems the only satisfaction she gets is from treating Ellen like a servant, as she treats the black workers who labor on the acres of land she owns. Indeed, she does send Ellen to work the fields too.
Despite her cruelty, she is undoubtedly pathetic. This aspect of her character is especially clear as she becomes weakened by age and illness. She is pitiful prior to her illness because she can only garner enjoyment from the misery she causes others, and she is pathetic afterward because she must rely on Ellen to care for her, whom she has treated as a slave and not as her own granddaughter. However weak, she clings to her vendetta against Ellen's father and continues to abuse Ellen emotionally. Her emotional abuse of Ellen is so severe that she scars her permanently, causing her to dig into her psyche and question her self- worth. She is particularly abusive when she demands that Ellen not shed another tear for her father's death. This demand illustrates her general revulsion at the display of emotion, as it seems she has been sucked dry of love and caring.