Opal’s defining character trait can be linked to her last name, Bear Shield. She is a protector of others, from her sister to her “grandsons,” the Red Feather boys. Stable and solid, traits that are reflected in her size, she seeks to shelter others from danger. Opal, described once as a stone, provides a weighty center for an expansive kin network and thus offers a kind of gravity around which the other characters can circle. Still, given the precarious realities of Native experience in the United States, she often feels like a failure, numbering amongst her greatest achievements the fact that, unlike many Native Americans who came before her, she has not disappeared. Her belief that the world is organized by whites to guarantee that most Indians will fail shapes her relationship to her grandsons. Because she desperately wants them to avoid this fate, she is often brusque with them and limits their exposure to Native culture.
Even if she can seem stern, Opal’s behavior emerges from compassion and empathy. A victim of abuse, Opal recognizes signs of cruelty in the behavior of a terrifying dog who menaces her as she delivers mail. Orange details the encounter between Opal and the dog at some length to demonstrate her ability to feel compassion even for living things, even those that want to hurt her. Even though she is capable of taking extreme measures to protect herself or others, Opal takes no pleasure in violence and feels for other creatures and people who suffer from it. Because bad things happen to good people, Opal embraces various ways of understanding the relationship between cause and effect. She prefers to look forward to the future rather than reflect back on the past, and she is very superstitious, connecting cause and effect in novel ways. These traits are evident in all of the chapters about Opal, but most especially in her last one as she begs Orvil in her mind to stay with them because the future is not possible in his absence.