In Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, how are Ralph and Luke similar to and different from each other?

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Ralph de Bricassart and Luke O’Neill are similar in a number of respects, including gender, race, nationality, heterosexuality, and paternity. Both men have relationships with Meggie Cleary, and both are ambitious and determined. Significant differences include vocation, marital status, and certain aspects of fatherhood. Some readers would argue that both men behave unethically. Ralph’s ambition is expressed through a religious institution, while Luke is an independent, entrepreneurial rancher.

Both Ralph and Luke are white, heterosexual Australian men who father a child with Meggie. Ralph, however, is unaware that Dane is his son for much of the boy’s existence; therefore, he does not have an opportunity to play a fatherly role, though he later mentors him as a priest. Not only is Ralph unmarried, but he is a Catholic priest who breaks his vow of celibacy by having a sexual liaison with a woman. Through his involvement in the Church, Ralph obtains power and prestige as he rises up the ranks.

Luke is a husband as well as a father, and even—for a while—helps raise Dane, not knowing the boy is not his biological child. However, he ignores his own daughter. Luke’s ambition to become wealthy is expressed through his individual hard work, not through operating within an institution. His obsession to succeed also sparks abusive behavior toward his wife, Meggie, which ultimately drives her away.

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