Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Boone Caudill is much like his father, John, whom Boone calls Pap. As the story begins, Pap takes Boone to task for getting drunk and beating up another boy at the local store:
"You been to the store ag'in, drinkin' liquor and raisin' sand, just like you was growed up."
Serena tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. "If he did, he come by it honest."
Boone is now seventeen and not quite a man yet, but he and Pap step outside and go toe-to-toe. This is the pivotal event that sets Boone on his path, with the intention of putting distance between himself and his father and the decision that he will never be like Pap. In reality, Boone is very much like his father, impulsive and prone to violence after drinking, but he is unable to see it. The difference between Boone and his father is that Boone is able to set out on his quest to seek a different life, while his father is trapped by the lifestyle he hates, unable to understand his own need for freedom and adventure.
In the end, though, Boone comes full circle—a victim of his anger, just as his father was. Boone finds himself with nowhere to go, as he now cannot return to civilization or to the life he acquired and then destroyed when he murdered his best friend, Jim, and abandoned Teal Eye, his wife and the mother of his child. Desperate for answers, he turns to Dick, but finding none, he disappears and is never seen or heard from again.
Boone's father, John, is the second most important character in the novel after Boone himself, despite his brief appearance in the book. John, whom Boone calls Pap, is lost, unable to adapt to his environment and at the same time unable to leave, as he has already grudgingly accepted society's rules. Boone remembers a time when his uncle Zeb Calloway visited their house and talked about his life and adventures. Readers later learn that Zeb's stories are only partially true, but Boone is taken in by them, setting the stage for Boone's later choices. Boone remembers that Pap became quiet at times while Zeb recounted his tales; he doesn't understand that his father longs for the kind of life Zeb leads but won't allow himself to pursue it.
Jim Deakins, who appears near the beginning of the story as Boone runs away from home, becomes Boone's traveling companion and later his best friend. In some respects, Jim reminds Boone of Boone's brother, Dan; Jim and Dan are both quite easygoing and friendly, although Boone initially suspects that Jim might be too eager to please others and prone to revealing more information to strangers than he should. Jim is able to prove his loyalty to Boone, though, cementing their friendship for good.
Jonathan Bedwell provides a contrast to Jim Deakins in that he represents everything that Boone hates about society. Bedwell is friendly, like Jim, but has a polished demeanor that hides his true nature, whereas Jim is more of an open book. This becomes very apparent when Boone and Bedwell are brought to court, and the jury of men choose to believe Bedwell's version of events over Boone's on the strength of nothing more than Bedwell's polite manners.
Dick Summers becomes Boone's second traveling companion, representing everything that Boone would like to be. It's ironic, then, that at the same time that Boone chooses Dick as a role model, Dick begins to realize that he is becoming too old to continue the path he's on and decides to return to the same type of life that Boone is running from. Boone is unable to understand this and continues on his journey with Jim in tow.