What are some characteristics of Bear in Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The character Bear in Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead is most definitely a complex and even contradictory character. Some of his major characteristics are that he is a severely overweight traveling jester who sings and juggles. However, he is also complex and contradictory in that he is a political protestor, protesting the ways the king and lords of England treat England's people, but then begins his relationship with Crispin treating Crispin in the exact same manner Bear protests against.

When Crispin first meets Bear, Bear says he has food to offer Crispin and then proceeds to give Crispin a lecture about how King Edward III and his lords are all getting fat, while the people of England are going hungry. This lecture is a comment on England's medieval feudal system in which the peasants were permitted to live on a lord's land but only as servants to the lord, responsible for caring for the farmland and sharing the majority of the crops' profits with the lord. However, the irony is that when Bear learns Crispin is an escaped serf, Bear states the English law decreeing any free person can take possession of a serf who has no master and makes Crispin swear servitude to Bear; if Crispin does not swear servitude, Bear will return Crispin to his lord to be killed. The irony is that Bear is behaving like a lord and treating Crispin like a serf, which is the exact same social system Bear protests against, the same system that leads to starvation of the English peasants. However, despite the fact that Bear contradicts his own beliefs through his actions, he is generally kind to Crispin, though gruff, and he and Crispin become dedicated friends. We especially see the irony in Bear's character and the fact that his actions contradict his beliefs when, after making Crispin vow servitude to him, he next asks, "Do you believe that someday none of us will have masters, or not?" (p. 84). The very fact Bear asks this question shows us his true belief that all should be free. When Crispin replies that servants will always exist, Bear further shows his true belief that one day all will be free when he points out, "And yet, ... when Adam plowed the earth and Eve spun, who then was the gentleman?" Bear's point is to assert that freedom is the natural state of existence. Hence, one major characteristic of Bear's character is to be ironic and contradictory with respect to his social beliefs concerning servitude.