All the characters in the story, with perhaps the exception of Clement Musgrove, are one-dimensional figures drawn from American folklore and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. What makes Clement more complex is his awareness of the changing nature of the frontier and his knowledge of the essential duality of life—both central themes in the story. Clement tells Jamie earlier in the novel that the Indians know their time has come; “they are sure of the future growing smaller always, and that lets them be infinitely gay and cruel.” When he discovers that Jamie is both the gentleman he met and the bandit who raped his daughter, he says that all things are double: “All things are divided in half—night and day, the soul and body, and sorrow and joy and youth and age. . . .” Thus, Clement is the central figure, both innocent in the ways of the world and wise in the meaning of that which he discovers.
Jamie, the robber bridegroom, is the central embodiment of the novel’s duality; he is both the handsome prince who comes to claim the beautiful daughter, as well as the stereotypical outlaw of the old frontier. Rosamond is the beautiful princess who at first rebuffs and then accepts her captor and violator; she is the fanciful and resilient adolescent heroine of countless fairy tales. Salome, the evil stepmother, not only is jealous of Rosamond’s beauty but also is an embodiment of the grasping materialism that gradually destroys the freedom of the frontier, for she continually insists that Clement increase his land holdings and build an empire in the wilderness. The minor characters—Mike Fink, Goat, and the Harp brothers—are the stock figures of folklore and fairy tale. They are both functions of the plot, serving to further the complications of the action, and embodiments of the violence and grotesque humor inherent in folk traditions.