The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

There are three sorts of characters in The Wave: the few great figures of history, such as Davis, Lincoln, Lee, and Grant; the many ordinary men and women caught up in the history of the period in which they live; and the mechanism Scott calls war, which involves all these characters in the action.

Least aware of their status as victims of circumstances are people such as Fanny May, a woman recovering from childbirth and the death of her baby, who drives out to watch the fighting near Richmond in the hope of seeing her husband, Philip. The armies in conflict are faint figures on the horizon, and Fanny May is unable to see them clearly because of the crowd of observers—a neat demonstration of Scott’s point that, for ordinary people, the surface of life gets in the way of vision. The great man, by contrast, stands apart from the crowd; he is able to see beyond the appearance of things. During the campaign in the wilderness, Grant sees that his capacity of action depends upon public perception of his ability: “The hint of a divergence between someone’s opinion of him and his own idea of himself was enough to throw him into a panic.” Lee has a similar insight shortly before the surrender at Appomattox; mixing with the young officers of his staff, he feels a certain constraint and attributes it to the fact that they do not know, as he does, “that strength, even for the strong, has its limitations.” Lee, Grant, Lincoln, and Davis know...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

The Wave Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, a man small enough in stature to belie the authority invested in him and capable of seeing more with his one good eye than most men see with both. Very image-conscious, he is ashamed of his desire to flee once it becomes apparent that the Confederacy is doomed, and his fugitive status is difficult for his vanity to endure. He eventually is found secreted in a farmhouse near Irwinsville, Georgia, and at the end of the novel awaits trial for treason against the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States of America. A tall, thin man with much presence, Lincoln is too proud to allow himself to show any humility in public. His determination and belief in predestination have brought him to the presidency, and they carry him through the difficult stance he has taken in his actions against the Confederate States of America. Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth, who is captured while attempting to escape.

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. General Lee is a calmly tenacious man with a kindly eye and manner. Beloved by officers and enlisted men alike, he struggles with depressions and a love of privacy difficult for a leader to display with dignity. He is deeply religious and earns much of his reputation for kindliness and dignity through his efforts to convince enlisted men of the importance of faith. Lee corresponds with General Ulysses S. Grant during the fighting outside Richmond, and through this correspondence he obtains General Grant’s respect. Lee is tricked into surrendering his Confederate Armies of Virginia to Grant after General Philip Henry Sheridan strategically contrives to make the numbers of the Union troops seem far larger than they are.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant, a Union general, commander of the Army of the Potomac, a stocky, full-bearded man with pale eyes. Although he has oratorical abilities, he is laconic in personal conversation. His popularity is a continual surprise to him, for he believes himself to be arrogant and shy. He uses his oratorical abilities to recruit soldiers to the Union cause and later leads these same soldiers against Lee to the eventual surrender of Lee. Grant conducts himself superciliously during the surrender negotiations and formalities, and the whole affair of Lee’s surrender leaves him determined never to spend as much energy on the man or the cause again.

Edwin George

Edwin George, a tobacco merchant and a Union spy from Tennessee. A handsome but coarse man with curly, graying hair, he believes himself to be wicked and accordingly distrusts and suspects fellow humans. He is undertaking an attempt to glean some information from a former lover and sister-in-law, Eugenia Gilbert. He is unaware that she has accepted a commission to become an abolitionist informer and hopes to extract similar information from him. Their meeting is warm with old attraction and rife with the inner conflict of their interests.

Eugenia Gilbert

Eugenia Gilbert, an abolitionist spy, an older woman who appears more tired and haggard than her age should merit. She has become hypocritical and cares only for the money to be earned by spying. Her exploitation of her former lover Edwin George probably will be successful, for she unbalances him at their first meeting and secures a promise for a private meeting the following day.

Dickie Ross

Dickie Ross, a Confederate volunteer. Dickie is young, aflame with enthusiasm, and tired of his clerking position. He is in a rowboat in Charleston Harbor when the first shot is fired on Fort Sumter and responds with youthful, ignorant enthusiasm.


Percy, an attorney’s scribe. Percy is unambitious, tedious, methodical, and fastidious about his health and manners. He is killed in a mob that is protesting the marching of Lincoln’s troops through Baltimore.

Henry Clay

Henry Clay, a little boy affected by the political pull between his Aunt Amanda’s Confederate sympathies and his mother’s Union sympathies. Henry is anemic, churlish, and frightened by the conflict between the women. He is unable to reconcile his love for both of them as they struggle to win his affections.

Franklin Rutherford

Franklin Rutherford and


Charlie, two Union soldiers. Franklin and Charlie are uneducated poor whites,...

(The entire section is 1906 words.)