Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
John Wiltshire is the protagonist. An English trader who comes to live on the island of Falesa, he finds it difficult to adjust, because another trader, Case, controls the island. From a working-class background, Wiltshire lacks formal education and social grace but operates based on the courage of his convictions. His naïveté and confidence in the shared fellowship among white Englishmen initially leads him astray. As he learns of the injustices and deceptions that Case has perpetrated, including tricking him into an inappropriate marriage, he becomes bolder. He also legally marries the woman he had deceived. Ultimately, Wiltshire destroys and kills Case.
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Case, another white English trader, has established a successful monopoly on Falesa through deception and intimidation. He has conducted an elaborate hoax, falsifying religious images and creating apparitions to frighten the indigenous residents. Thriving on power and deceit, Case recommends that Wiltshire marry Uma, knowing that it will result in his rival’s ostracism. He dies in a fight with Wiltshire over the destruction of the hideaway from which he conducts his fraudulent activities.
Uma is a young woman, indigenous to another island, who has come to live on Falesa with her mother. Before Wiltshire’s arrival, she had previously been courted by Case and perhaps had a sexual relationship with him. This situation generated a taboo against her and her mother. Case and Wiltshire deceive her into a false marriage, but Wiltshire later actually marries her in a legal ceremony.
Maea, a powerful indigenous ruler, is the wealthiest chief of Falesa. He has been planning to expose Case and enlists Wiltshire’s support in eliminating his influence.
Black Jack, an Englishman of African heritage, lives on Falesa. As another of Case’s accomplices, he performs the fake marriage ceremony between Wiltshire and Uma.
Tarleton is a missionary who makes the rounds of the islands. Arriving on Falesa, he informs Wiltshire of Case’s activities, which had compelled him to leave the island. He also marries Wiltshire to Uma.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 215
Wiltshire, a rough, uneducated, but courageous trader who has just come to Falesá. His predecessors having been killed or driven away by Case, a rival trader, Wiltshire immediately finds himself the object of Case’s villainy. Pretending friendship, Case persuades him to marry a native girl who is under a taboo. As a result, not a single native will trade with Wiltshire.
Case, a rival who plays on the superstitions of the natives. In order to control the island, he pretends to be in league with a powerful devil. When discovered, he shoots and wounds both Wiltshire and Uma; Wiltshire then kills him with a knife.
Uma, a modest islander married in a false ceremony to Wiltshire. Because she is under a taboo, the natives will not trade with Wiltshire. Her mother is a producer of copra.
Tarleton, the missionary who marries Wiltshire and Uma.
Captain Randall, the supposed owner of a trading post and a friend of Case.
Black Jack, Case’s confederate.
Maea, the most powerful chief of Falesá, who eventually gives his trade to Wiltshire in order to break Case’s hold on the natives.
Vigours, an earlier trader frightened away by Case.
John Adams, another trader, who dies insane.