Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Godfrey St. Peter

Godfrey St. Peter, professor of European history in a Midwestern state university. A scholar, historian, and artist, he is also a sensitive, imaginative man caught between the creativity of his middle years and the prospect of old age. His eight-volume work Spanish Adventurers in North America has brought him fame, the Oxford Prize, and money to build the fine new house his wife desires. Yet he is not happy in his new house or new life, and his enterprising son-in-law’s exploitation of another man’s invention makes him dissatisfied with material success in any form. During a summer while his family is in Europe, he stays on in the shabby old house he still rents because of its associations with all he values most: his early years as a young husband and father, his friendship with Tom Outland, a brilliant student killed in the war, the writing of his books. There, reading in Outland’s diary about the discovery of ancient ruins in the Southwest, he recaptures in memory some of the passion and energy he had known as a boy and while at work on his great history. In the fall, alone in the cluttered attic study of the old house, he is almost asphyxiated by gas from a dilapidated heater. Saved by the timely arrival of the family seamstress, he realizes that his lonely summer has been a farewell to a time when life could be lived with delight. Four themes of corruption and betrayal touch upon St. Peter’s story: the success that has made him the victim of his wife’s ambition and his older daughter’s desire for wealth and luxury; the knowledge that a frontier university, founded to stimulate scholarship of passion and vision, is becoming a refuge for immature minds, its integrity in pawn to a time-serving state legislature; the indifference of government archeologists to Outland’s discovery of the mesa city and the sale of its relics to a foreign collector; and the commercialization for private gain of Outland’s invention. Behind these stand the symbolic Blue Mesa and the stone city of an ancient culture. A contrast is implied. The people on the rock created a humanized world of beautiful forms and ceremonial richness. Modern America offers only the products of its materialistic concerns to eternity.

Tom Outland

Tom Outland, professor St. Peter’s former student. Orphaned as a baby, he was taken to New Mexico by foster parents. There, he worked as a railroad call boy and later, while recuperating from pneumonia, as a range rider for a cattle company. Sent to tend herd in a winter camp on the Cruzados River, he and his friend, Rodney Blake, explore the almost inaccessible Blue Mesa and find, preserved under overhanging cliffs, the stone city of a vanished tribe of cliff dwellers. The discovery, filling Outland with awe for something so untouched by time and admiration for the artisans who had built with patience and love, becomes the turning point in his life; here is evidence of the filial piety he had read about while studying the Latin poets with Father Duchene. He makes a trip to Washington in an attempt to interest government officials in excavating his find. Rebuffed, he returns to New Mexico. In the meantime, Blake, thinking that he is helping his friend, has sold most of the relics and artifacts to a German collector for four thousand dollars. Outland and Blake quarrel, and Blake leaves the region. Outland...

(The entire section is 1388 words.)