The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Brendan, an Irish saint who lives from c. 484 to c. 578 c.e. and is rumored to be the first European explorer to reach the Americas. His birth is marked by a brush fire that, like the burning bush of Moses, leaves no evidence of anything being consumed. From his earliest days, he seeks to live a holy life and to help others do the same. The historical Brendan is known for founding numerous monasteries and convents and for his sailing adventures that may have taken him as far as the New World of the Americas. Brendan is a rough, strong monk who bravely faces the task of winning the Druid chieftains to Christianity. He helps ensure that Hugh the Handsome will become the first Christian king of Cashel, instead of his pagan cousin Hugh the Black. Although Brendan rarely misspeaks, he seems to have spoken rashly to a young monk, who subsequently drowned. Out of penance for having in some way caused this disaster, Brendan sails far and wide in search of Terrestrial Paradise, or Tir-na-n-Og. Upon his return, he slumps into depression for a season, but eventually he recovers to establish more monasteries and even visit Wales and the court of King Arthur to win more converts. Although Brendan is strict in establishing the moral and dietary practices of monks, he is creative in embellishing the tales of his adventures and is highly sought as a storyteller.


Finn, a poor peasant who narrates the novel. Finn is a brave companion of Brendan who sacrifices even the comforts of his own marriage for the sake of helping Brendan with his voyages and efforts to make new converts in Wales. As a result of a...

(The entire section is 685 words.)