The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Frank Cahill is a newly blind, self-sufficient, irascible individual who has been a loner all of his life. Even his marriage, recounted in flashbacks, never brought him close to his wife. She left him while pregnant, and he never tried to contact her or his child until he received the military telegram. Dickey portrays a very unsympathetic character, a cursed, blind Oedipal figure searching not for a father but for a son. He finds some measure of salvation and meaning to life in his quest to understand Joel’s life and death.

Zack, Cahill’s constant companion, is a large, black, wolflike dog that everybody fears, and with good reason. Untrained and newly acquired because of Cahill’s sudden blindness, Zack attains mythical proportions. Afraid of nothing, the canine attacks an air cadet, kills a marauding pack of wild dogs, and is finally stopped only by whirling propellers at the novel’s end. Cahill carries the dog’s head in his hands in a rousing conclusion to the bloody carnage at the Latham Field graduation ceremonies.

Joel Cahill, Frank’s son, is never seen but is described by most all the other characters. Dickey portrays him as a Shelley-like figure, enigmatic, brilliant, and defiant. He is also cruel, and he creates and leads a dictatorial military unit. He dies (or mysteriously disappears) and remains to the reader a creepy, sadistic character.

Boyd McClendon is the garrulous, whiskey-drinking owner of a...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Frank Cahill

Frank Cahill, a fifty-four-year-old carpenter and amateur body builder recently blinded by a rare form of adult diabetes. Unpredictably energized by the challenges imposed by this condition, Cahill travels from the small amusement park he built in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Air Corps training facility where his son Joel has been declared missing after his plane crashed in a farmer’s field. Accompanied by his wolflike dog Zack, Cahill tries to piece together a picture of the son he has never met; he and his wife separated shortly before Joel’s birth. Himself subject to a form of egotism marked by a deep reliance on instinctual response, Cahill reacts positively to what he learns about Joel’s self-confidence and faith in personal impulse, but he also comes to realize the destructive potential of such willful individualism when it is converted to political ends.

Joel Cahill

Joel Cahill, a nineteen-year-old cadet pilot who becomes the center of a student cult by the strength of his inherent charisma, physical attractiveness, and symbolic cast of mind. Informed by his reading of science fiction and nineteenth century Romantic poetry, especially the works of such idealistic believers in the transforming power of the imagination as English poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and James Thomson, Joel has constructed a personal brand of mysticism aimed at mastering the machine in order eventually to transcend its physical limitations and become one with the elements. Joel transmits his ideas to other specially chosen cadets and labels their secret confederacy “Alnilam” after the star in the center of the...

(The entire section is 680 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A surrogate for the inquisitive reader, cantankerous, misanthropic Frank Cahill is the device by which Dickey provides entry into the Army...

(The entire section is 407 words.)