There are quite a few characters in Brendan. The primary protagonist is Brendan himself, a priest who is capable of working literal miracles in times of danger. Then there is Finn, a more worldly man who is less driven to experience the glory of the Christian message than Brendan, but touched by the gospel nonetheless. Finn serves as a sort of foil to the protagonist and shows the "other side." The other characters all fall somewhere in between Finn and Brendan, and your analysis could explore these contrasting themes. For example, there is the court jester Crosan, who is first attracted to Brendan because he leads a simple life with no frills. Then there is Mac Lennin, the bard who joins Brendan because he finds Brendan spiritually appealing. Eventually, Mac Lennin establishes a monastery. The book also introduces Ita and Brigid, two more clerics who are drastically different from Brendan in their application of spirituality.
In Brendan, the protagonist’s nautical attainments constituting the heart of the story are not presented as great feats of heroism in Brendan’s mind. He does not see them as a means of spreading the gospel, nor—unlike in other stories about his contemporaries who leave Ireland—are they a punishment. Instead, they are presented as expressions of Brendan’s naïve, foolhardy, God-seeking personality. Despite his education, Brendan remains essentially simple. His clerical eminence, established by his monastic foundation at Clonfert, is not synonymous with the secular power that abbots and other high-ranking members of the hierarchy possessed in those times. On the contrary, Brendan makes his way in ignorance and in poverty, with a humble, unassuming, and rather doubt-laden cast of mind.
Although Brendan is equipped with the power to work miracles and is able to apply that power opportunely in moments of danger, it is his humility that attracts adherents. Finn, in particular, provides a clear perspective on the combination of uncertainty and devotion that are continually at odds within Brendan. Unlike Brendan, Finn is not a cleric. He is more worldly, as his marriage and paternity suggest, and though he is touched by the wonder of the Christian message, he is less driven to experience the glory of it than is Brendan. Finn is clearly conceived as a foil to the protagonist, and his greater steadiness and narrower psychological range show Brendan in bolder relief than would be possible under more conventional narrative circumstances. The fact that Finn survives Brendan acts as a reminder that Finn embodies the less spectacular, more down-to-earth fate of the common man.
Most of the other characters may be thought of in terms of the contrast between Finn and Brendan, particularly when that contrast is seen as a complement rather than as a polarity. The combination of the mundane and the spiritual is located in the two conversion episodes in which Brendan is involved. Crosan, the court jester at the court of the High Kings at Cashel, is attracted to Brendan because of his mundanity. On the other hand, the bard Mac Lennin joins his fortunes to Brendan’s on the basis of the latter’s spiritual appeal. Not surprisingly, Mac Lennin eventually establishes his own monastic settlement. Even the most notable of the clerics whom Brendan encounters, such as Ita and Brigid, possess an earthiness through which their spiritual passions are articulated. This is particularly true of the vivid and volatile Brigid, with whose zeal and vigor Brendan’s adventures make a stimulating comparison.
The characters’ sexuality is one of the most consistent ways in which their earthiness is expressed, and their lack of prudery about sexual and other natural functions is one of the basic means by which they are revealed to be at home with themselves in the natural world. It is that sense of home, expressed in terms of self-possession, which is brought into critical focus through Brendan’s character. He is the one who goes to extreme...
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