The most important character in the short story “The Age of Lead” by Margaret Atwood is Jane who is an active, developing character. Vincent and John are both dead and are absent from the present action.
Jane is a developing character because the story presents the way she changed over time. Her outer characterisation suggests that at the time of the narration she is probably middle-aged and that she lives alone in Toronto. However, the story maps her life from the age of sixteen onwards. She is also a college graduate and is probably a financial consultant or an accountant: “She developed a small business among them, handling their money.” (l. 143)
Jane’s inner characterisation first suggests that she is lonely and that she used to spend quite a lot of time watching TV to forget about her loneliness: “Jane doesn’t watch very much television. She used to watch it more. (…) It was all a form of escape.” (ll. 9-15)
Jane stopped watching television because what she saw on TV was often depressing. However, when she sees the show about the Franklin Expedition she is intrigued and curious to find out the story of the dead man that the scientists excavated.
Her memories about her youth and her relationship with Vincent suggest that as a teenager she was attracted to Vincent. Furthermore, we find out that she was frustrated by the fact that her mother always told her that she was a negative consequence of war time, which probably made her feel unwanted: “Jane herself had been a consequence. She had been a war baby, a mistake that had needed to be paid for, over and over.” (ll. 62-64)
For this reason, Jane, like Vincent, wanted a life of freedom without consequences: “They wanted a life without consequences.” (ll. 97-98). Sharing this view is probably what makes their friendship last.
However, when they go to college, Jane becomes frustrated by Vincent’s attitude. While she stops seeing other people, Vincent avoids taking their relationship further: “She thought she might be in love with Vincent. She thought that maybe they should make love, to find out.” (ll. 113-114); “They held hands, but they didn’t hug; they hugged, but they didn’t pet; they kissed, but they didn’t neck.” (ll. 115-117)
As she gets older and she and Vincent move to different cities, Jane develops attachment issues as she never commits to any relationship: “She lived with several men, but in each of the apartments there were always cardboard boxes, belonging to her, that she never got around to unpacking: just as well, because it was that much easier to move out.” (ll. 122-125)
Vincent is a secondary character in the story. He is absent from the present action because he died a year before and only appears in Jane’s memories.
His outer characterisation tells us that he was about the same age as Jane and studied film in Europe. His physical portrait as a young high school student is conveyed occasionally: “Jane remembers Vincent, sixteen and with more hair then, raising one eyebrow and lifting his lip in a mock sneer…” (ll. 46-48); “He was hallowed-eyed even then; he frequently looked as if he’d been up all night. Even then he resembled a very young old man.” (ll. 54-55)
Vincent’s inner characterisation is conveyed at different ages: as a student in high school and university and as a grown-up man. When he was young, Jane thought Vincent was easy to like and sociable: “He made fun of everything and was adored like a pet. He went where he liked, and nobody owned him.” (ll. 55-56)