The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party Characters

M. T. Anderson

Character List

Note: One of Mr. Gitney’s theories for increasing rationality is to call people by numbers rather than by names. If a number accompanies the name, that is how the person is known in the College of Lucidity.

Octavian—the narrator, a slave boy educated as an experiment.

Princess Cassiopeia—a former African princess, now slave and Octavian’s mother.

Cloud—Octavian’s dog that is accidentally poisoned.

Mr. Josiah Gitney (03-01)—owner of the college, Octavian, and his mother.

Mr. 07-03—a wild-haired young painter.

Dr. Trefusis (09-01)—an elderly scholar who tutors Octavian.

Pro Bono (24-06)— one of Gitney’s slaves, commonly called Bono.

Druggett—a trader/naturalist who deals with the Iroquois.

Dr. Matthias Fruhling—a businessman who visits Gitney’s house.

13-04—the music master who tutors Octavian.

John Withers—the customs inspector who is tarred and feathered.

Lord Cheldthorpe (02-01)—Gitney’s aristocratic benefactor who dies.

The Earl of Cheldthorpe—the Lord Cheldthorpe’s nephew, a foolish enthusiast.

Mr. Richard Sharpe—the strict new supervisor of Gitney’s home.

Elijah Tolley—a white man who reports the escaped Octavian to Gitney.

Private Evidence (Ev) Goring—a young enlisted man who becomes friends with Octavian.

Davey—the slave catcher who captures Octavian.

Hosiah Lister—a slave who was promised his freedom for fighting and gets it in death.

Character Analysis

Just as Octavian’s life is shaped by an experiment to determine the actual differences between the Caucasian and African races, so the characters in the novel group into black and white. Within each group, each character is highly differentiated but also represents a period type.

The Main Black Characters

The novel’s main character, Octavian narrates more than half of it. His personality comes through as powerfully in that narration as in any action he takes, perhaps more so. His words are intensely intelligent but often abstracted and informed by a Latinate vocabulary. He sounds like a scientist rather than like the boy he is when the novel begins. It is as if, as his mother indicates, he had never been a child. He is at once an experiment being raised by Gitney and the College of Lucidity and a pure representation of an enslaved race. His mind is great, but he is told to put it to use only in the service of his masters. He thinks rebellious thoughts, but to do so, he reluctantly uses the logic his owners taught him. He is everywhere a living contradiction and an irony as intense as his name, a reference to the historical Octavian who was adopted as Julius Caesar’s heir and who eventually became emperor himself.

Princess Cassiopeia is another face of slavery: the slave who works hard to deny she is a slave. Praised for her beauty like the mythical vain princess from whom she takes her name, given a place of honor for it, for her wit, and for her former position as a genuine princess, Octavian’s mother continually walks a tightrope, trying to pretend she is already free. Her real situation is brought home to her when she denies the Earl of Cheldthorpe’s sexual advances. She is beaten, and her status is never the same. Her death at the “pox party” is especially cruel because Cassiopeia valued her beauty so highly and must see it vanish before she dies.


(The entire section is 809 words.)