The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As is typical of picaresque fiction, the characters in The Orphan Angel are static. Most of the characters play brief roles as they encounter Shiloh and Butternut on their trek across North America. Most are stock characters, playing types to complicate or further the adventures of the two heroes. Two characters, Captain Ffoulkastle and Captain Appleby, consider the likelihood that Shiloh is actually the poet Shelley. Captain Ffoulkastle doubts it, although presumably Shiloh tells him as much in order to explain the ties he has in Italy—a wife and children; Captain Appleby surmises that Shiloh is Shelley based upon his knowledge of the historical poet’s works and philosophies and his own observation of Shiloh and the epithalamium he pens for Professor Lackland as a wedding gift. Both captains play minor roles, but they keep alive the Shiloh/Shelley motif and subtly remind the reader of Butternut’s naïveté as he travels with Shiloh and never recognizes his fellow traveler as the famed poet.

Melissa Daingerfield, a fourteen-year-old Virginia daughter; Miss Rosalie Lillie of Louisville, the professor’s fiancée; Deborah Bartlett, a young widow living in Kentucky; Anne, an adopted daughter of a Cheyenne chief; and Maria Solidad de Sylva (Silver), the object of the heroes’ quest, all play the same role, young women instantly smitten by Shiloh. These five women characters allow Wylie to emphasize the ideal side of Shiloh/Shelley’s...

(The entire section is 495 words.)