As happens frequently in MacLennan’s fiction, the characters take on symbolic roles. Neil’s function as Odysseus is underscored at the end of the novel when he says to Penny: “Wise Penelope! That’s what Odysseus said to his wife when he got home. I don’t think he ever told her he loved her. He probably knew that the words would sound too small.” This is not the only classical parallel. Neil is like those heroes who are sent off by a father or an uncle on a dangerous mission likely to cause death. Miraculously, the hero escapes and, like Perseus with the Gorgon’s head, returns to confound the tyrannical elder. In this case, fate forestalls the hero. The crisis following the explosion causes Neil to shake off the last effects of his wound and shellshock. He loses interest in destroying Colonel Wain’s reputation and does not even trouble to get from the mortally injured Alex Mackenzie the affidavit that would clear his name. Angus Murray does this for him.
The heroine, Penny Wain, is a woman whose life is changed by the war as much as is Neil’s. Although destructive and disruptive, the war does give Penny a chance to use her talents to become a naval architect. She achieves the distinction of having her design for a submarine chaser accepted by the British Admiralty.
Angus Murray acts as the confidant to the other characters and as a link between them. The belief that Penny might marry him cures for a time his melancholia and alcoholism, which had been caused in part by the early death of his first wife as well as by the...
(The entire section is 639 words.)