The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The pages of Capricornia swarm with characters. The author does not develop them, though, in much psychological detail. What the reader gets are the externals: development through action and authorial commentary.

One of the chief means Herbert uses to suggest the distinguishing characteristics of many of the characters in the novel—especially the minor ones— is naming. Thus, the reader encounters Judge Pondrosass and troopers O’Theef and O’Crimnell. The local magistrate is Paddy Larsney, and two clergymen are named Randter and Prayter. Through this obtrusive device, Herbert is making a point about the inherent corruption of the local officials and the greed and mean-spiritedness of the inhabitants generally. The emblematic names at times create an almost allegorical quality in the work. They are a constant reminder of the author’s mocking presence.

The only characters that are developed in much detail in the novel are the Shillingsworths, especially Oscar and Norman, and Tim O’Cannon. Each, however, is absent for long sections of the novel. Since the novel is as much about the place as the people, to be away from Capricornia is to disappear from the reader’s attention.

Oscar Shillingsworth emerges from Capricornia as a failure in most of his endeavors, a common fate among characters in the novel. At the outset, he becomes overly conscious of his rising status in Capricornian society and seeks to enhance it through marriage and through the purchase of Red...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Oscar Shillingsworth

Oscar Shillingsworth, a civil servant and later a cattle rancher. He is a tall, erect, neat man who in his maturity wears a huge mustache. Determined to get on in life, he works assiduously for the government, marries well, and leases a large cattle station in Australia’s rough-and-ready Northern Territory (called Capricornia in the novel). At the beginning, he is in his thirties and is somewhat prim and self-interested. His wife runs off, and various other problems of life make him a more generous, concerned man in the long run.

Mark Shillingsworth

Mark Shillingsworth, Oscar’s younger brother, who comes to Capricornia with him to work as a government clerk. He is twenty-two years old and less eager than Oscar to please the society of middle-class clerks and shopkeepers. Almost immediately, he falls in with a happy group of gamblers and drunkards. Tall and handsome, attractive to women, and prone to alcoholic excess, he soon falls out of work and society, has a child with an aboriginal girl, and kills a Chinese merchant in a brawl over money. He disappears and is believed to be dead for much of the novel, but he turns up as a middle-aged man, still prone to getting into trouble but often rather innocently so.

Norman Shillingsworth

Norman Shillingsworth, Mark’s illegitimate son, named Mark Anthony Shillingsworth but known in his childhood, while living as a half-caste, as Nawnim, an aboriginal version of “No Name,” which gradually is anglicized as Norman. His mother dies soon after he is born, and Mark Shillingsworth never takes responsibility for him. Yellow-skinned, black-eyed, and handsome, he lives from hand to mouth until Oscar Shillingsworth takes him into his family and rears him as a white child. He is educated as a draftsman but has natural gifts as a mechanic and ambitions to work on the railroad. He becomes a genial,...

(The entire section is 791 words.)