At Swim-Two-Birds Characters

The Characters (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

These fictional frames are extended by reference to various types of literature, each providing appropriate characters, cast from the resources of realism, folklore, mythology, and popular culture. Each of these characters is driven by one or two prevailing forces and contrasts or complements another character in the novel.

One stratum of characters—such as the narrator’s uncle and Anthony Lamont—represents workaday Dublin. With his unerring ear for the intonation and cliches of common speech, O’Brien renders a convincing, realistic image of their materialism, servitude, and philistinism; they have no appreciation of the wonders of the imagination which constitute the world they inhabit. A related group is made up of the narrator and his university student friends: The most intelligent of the rising generation of Irishmen, they represent various degrees of independence from staid society, although the avenues by which they express their departure from convention betray their own immaturity: excessive drink, coarse conversation, and strained efforts to impress with a little learning.

From Irish folklore come the Good Fairy and the Pooka, and from the popular romance of the American cowboy come the hired hands of William Tracy. These characters provide variant mythologizations of the archetypal struggle between Good and Evil, and the interweaving of their subplots, dialects, and Dublin city references develops the fantastic humor and satirical thrust of the novel.

From Celtic mythology, on the other hand, come the weightier figures of Finn MacCool and King Sweeny. While together they form a heroic and eloquent contrast with prosaic modern characters and values, they are comic and tragic counterparts to each other. Finn’s sociability, versatility, size, and absurdity contrast with Sweeny’s alienation, suffering, and physical lightness. Between them, they represent a world of feeling and aspiration larger than those found in any other dimension of the novel, a world hospitable to women, drink, and poetry, which cultivates the love of nature, acknowledges the presence of a Creator, and accepts with humor the pain of the human condition.

At Swim-Two-Birds Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, unnamed, a none-too-diligent young uni-versity student in Dublin who is writing a novel about another author, Dermot Trellis. The narrator tells about his carping uncle, his fellow students, and his drinking and wasting of time. He reads from and comments on his developing novel.

Dermot Trellis

Dermot Trellis, a character in the novel that the narrator is writing. Trellis is himself writing a novel to demonstrate the consequences of immorality. Trellis is a pimply and neurotic recluse who chooses to spend most of his time in bed. In the narrator’s story, the characters of Trellis’ novel rebel against the roles that Trellis has assigned to them, play out their own stories, and eventually attempt to kill Trellis. Trellis is saved when his servant, Teresa, enters his room, picks up some sheets of paper from the floor, and throws those pages that sustain the existence of the rebel characters into the fire.

John Furriskey

John Furriskey, an original character concocted by Dermot Trellis. Furriskey, a well-built, dark, and clean-shaven man of medium height, is intended by the author to be the embodiment of immorality and rakishness, but he rebels. He marries the servant, Peggy, whom Trellis intended that he dishonor. Peggy has discovered that Trellis’ control over his characters is suspended when he sleeps. Furriskey conspires with the other characters first to drug Trellis so that they can live independently of him while he sleeps and finally to torture and kill Trellis.

Orlick Trellis

Orlick Trellis, the illegitimate son of Dermot Trellis and Sheila Lamont, one of Trellis’ characters. Sheila was to have been a girl of virtue and refinement, whose honor is destroyed by Furriskey. Trellis, however, is so taken with the beauty and refinement of his literary creation, Sheila, that he assaults her. Their offspring, Orlick, came into the world full grown. Sharing his father’s writing talent as well as his pimples, Orlick, who comes under the influence of the evil Pooka, is recruited by the other rebel characters to write a novel in which Dermot Trellis is grossly abused and then, as a...

(The entire section is 910 words.)