Edward Baltram moves from despair to hope in the course of the novel. What brings about this change is not so much his own efforts but the efforts of and contact with others. For example, Thomas McCaskerville works behind the scenes to bring Edward to Seegard, while Stuart helps the mother of the boy Edward has inadvertently killed to forgive him. In addition, the appearance of such characters as Brownie and Jesse helps Edward return to a more normal perception of the possibilities in life. Edward must, however, make that last step by himself; when he does so, he becomes, in perhaps a truer sense than Stuart, an apprentice to the good. Furthermore, when he thinks of becoming a writer and using his experiences, he unites the advice of Thomas, the role of his father, Jesse, and the example of his stepfather, Harry.
Stuart Cuno is something of a stereotyped character; he is so earnest about becoming good that he creates misery and disruption wherever he goes. His concept of goodness has something of the abstract about it. It is only at the end of the novel, when Stuart finds a specific outlet for his attempts to do good, that he becomes a force for good. He is to become a teacher of small children in order to “give them an idea of what goodness is, and how to love it.”
Jesse Baltram has many of the traits of the great artist; he lives an unconventional life, he loves many women, and his art is ignored or unappreciated. Jesse, however, is now only the shadow of his once-heroic self. His madness and infirmities reduce him to a near-childish state. Even in that reduced state, however, he can reach out, touch, and change others. The few words he speaks to Midge and Stuart alter their lives, and his forgiveness begins to bring about some important changes in Edward. His death is as romantic and mysterious as one can imagine; it is similar to the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley or that of George Gordon, Lord Byron. After his death, “Jesse lives” begins to appear on walls in London. In a curious way, then, Jesse embodies many of the aspects of the great artist even though he has lost the ability to create.