The Sweet Hereafter

by Russell Banks

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I would like a character profile of Mitchell Stephens in Banks' The Sweet Hereafter.

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The underlying characteristic of Mitchell Stephens is that he is understated. He is understated in his approach to potential and present clients. He is understated in his own expression of grief and worry. He is understated in presenting the need for lawsuits in cases of negligent injustice.

I stood silently in bright snow-reflected sunlight on the steps at the doorway for a few seconds and let him look me over. I've learned not to rush these things.

Stephens truly understands the suffering of his clients and potential clients. He truly empathizes with their suffering because he knows suffering first hand. He endured his own early suffering related to his daughter Zoe's near tracheotomy when she was beset by a nest of baby black widow spiders.

"Use the small blade," he said, and then he explained how to perform an emergency tracheotomy, told me how to cut into my daughter's throat and windpipe without causing her to bleed to death.

He is enduring current suffering while Zoe now runs wild and destroys her life, making her for him a sort of walking dead.

I'm like Risa Walker and Hartley Otto and Billy Ansel and  all those other parents whose children have died and who have been unable to react with rage ....

Stephens is patient, quietly determined, respectful, serious-minded, burdened with understated grief and keen to right wrongs that befall innocent victims and their suffering parents who are left behind having dreams of their lost dead children.

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