Wallace Stegner’s characters are well drawn and convincing, even though many of them represent typical attitudes of the 1960’s and do not develop much in the course of the novel. The reader is invited into the mind of only one character, Joe Allston himself.
As narrator and protagonist of All the Little Live Things, Allston is a complex, well-rounded character who does indeed grow through the events of the novel. Although Stegner obviously wants the reader to sympathize with him, Allston is by no means perfect. Age and experience have given him considerable knowledge, a strong sense of honor and responsibility, and a sharp wit. On the other hand, he is impatient and often makes situations worse by his impulsiveness. Stegner’s technique in developing this first-person narrator allows the reader to see both what Allston thinks and what he says or does, and thus to note the frequent ironic mismatch between his intentions and their consequences. While he would like to make the world safer and more orderly, he often does just the opposite. Allston’s principal antagonist is Marian Catlin, in spite of their affection for each other. In some respects, she seems too good to be true, based as she is on Stegner’s mother and on several friends of the Stegners who had died of breast cancer. Marian’s affection for all kinds of life and her acceptance of death move Joe to both sympathy and anger. She is closely associated with the title of the novel...
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