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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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.

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