The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters in Outer Dark are drawn in broad surface strokes. The reader rarely enters their minds, and he is often left to guess at their motivations, which may be quite different from their stated purposes. For example, Culla Holme is ashamed of his incestuous coupling with his sister. When Rinthy is in labor, Culla refuses to summon outside help, even that of an old witch, a “midnight woman,” because “She’d tell.” “Who is they to tell?” Rinthy asks. “Anybody,” Culla answers. Although he himself helps with the birth, he does so only at the last minute, after his sister has undergone great pain. Clearly he is giving her a chance to die, hoping that she will take the proof of their sin with her.

Culla’s attempt to rid himself of the child after its birth is also marked by a combination of cruelty and cowardice. Rather than simply murder the child, he leaves it to die in the midst of the night swamp and flees in dread and panic from the sight and sound of his wailing son. Yet in his flight he becomes lost and circles unknowingly back to the scene of his guilt, where the baby still howls in outrage and accusation.

The pattern is repeated after Rinthy takes off in search of the child. Culla comes after, perhaps to find Rinthy, although he never asks of her from the strangers he meets on the way. Indeed, it is possible that Culla’s following his sister is more a matter of fate than intent, and that his movement is still flight rather than search. Moreover, his journey continues to circle, and the book ends as he walks along a road leading to a swamp, likely the very one in which he was lost at the beginning.

Rinthy Holme owes much of her characterization to William Faulkner’s Lena Grove in Light in August. Like Lena, Rinthy is, despite her obvious sexual experience, an innocent in the alien world. She has true love for her child, who causes her neither shame nor regret. When Culla tells her that the child is dead, she wants to see the grave, to lay her baby in the earth. When Culla confesses that the child is still alive, she simply sets out after it. Her breasts continue to make milk months after...

(The entire section is 888 words.)

Outer Dark Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rinthy Holme

Rinthy Holme, a young, uneducated countrywoman about nineteen years old. Her brother Culla has (probably) raped her, though she seems to bear him no great ill will for that. When her pregnancy becomes obvious, Culla moves them to a remote cabin in the backwoods and refuses to allow anyone to come near for fear that his deed will be discovered. After a long, painful labor with no midwife (and very little help or sympathy from Culla), Rinthy gives birth to a male child. While she sleeps after the birth, Culla takes the child and leaves it alone in the woods, later telling Rinthy that it died. When Rinthy discovers that there is no body in the grave, she learns the truth and sets out to find the son that she has never seen. Rinthy has the innocent, trusting attitude of a child, accepting whatever comes her way, except in this matter of locating her child. She pursues that goal with steadfast and single-minded determination, ignoring the immense difficulties that confront her. Her innocence seems to touch those she meets on her travels; almost everyone that she encounters treats her with kindness, offers her food and lodging, and invites her to return to share their hospitality again. She never finds the baby and possibly loses her mind in her futile search.

Culla Holme

Culla Holme, Rinthy’s older brother. He has sufficient knowledge of right and wrong to recognize the evil of his incest with his sister, yet he tries to undo the deed by destroying the evidence. He does not seem to realize that he is thus compounding his error rather than atoning for his guilt. In fact, he never seems to regret the deed; he only worries that others may find out about it. When Rinthy sets out in search of the tinker, whom she is convinced has her son, Culla tries to follow her. Although the people he meets are initially open to him, the miasma of guilt that surrounds him leads to trouble for him on every side. The three evil strangers who seem...

(The entire section is 811 words.)

Outer Dark Themes / Characters

The title of the book comes from the eighth chapter of Matthew, in which Jesus warns that those without faith in Him will be driven into the...

(The entire section is 244 words.)