The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Green’s treatment of Roe’s and Pye’s relationship anticipates Robert Penn Warren’s dramatization of the symbolic relationship between Jack Burden and Willie Stark in All the King’s Men (1946). Like Stark, Pye is the more spectacular character who dies violently; like Burden, Roe is the book’s more reflective protagonist, who ponders the meaning of the other’s life and derives vital lessons from it. Pye can be considered Roe’s double, the id to his ego or shadow to his persona: his negative potential.

The men are linked by significant interlacings of their lives: Not only has Pye’s sister abducted Roe’s son, not only is Roe assigned to Pye’s station, but also Roe has once had the suicidal urge to which Pye eventually succumbs. Early in his Fire Service career, Roe encounters two young women who are sexually promiscuous with men in uniform. Instead of seizing this opportunity for himself, he panders it to Pye, “with the idea that, by putting them [the women] Pye’s way he might do himself a bit of good with the Skipper.” Roe thereby sets in motion a train of events that will doom Pye, since he loses his head and neglects his duties over one of the two women, Prudence, thereby forfeiting much of his authority over his men while infuriating his commander with his absences from the station.

One critic of Green’s fiction, A. Kingsley Weatherhead, has pointed out that Pye’s and Roe’s names “put together...

(The entire section is 584 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Richard Roe

Richard Roe, a widower in his mid-thirties who volunteers for duty in the London Auxiliary Fire Service. He was badly hurt by the death of his wife. Roe, a product of an affluent, cultured home, learns what life holds in store for members of the working class when he signs on as a fireman and lives among them. In his detached way, he loves his son, Christopher, but their relationship grows distant after Roe’s sister Dy takes over his duty as parent. In Roe’s absence, Christopher is abducted for a short time by the sister of his superior officer, Albert Pye.

Albert Pye

Albert Pye, a sub-officer of the London Auxiliary Fire Service station and Roe’s superior officer. Pye, a rough man from humble origins, is tormented by memories and represses the fact that when young, he made love to his own sister, an act that propelled her into madness and eventually leads to his suicide in a gas oven.


Dy, Roe’s sister-in-law, who cares for his young son, Christopher, when his fire duties call him away from home. Sharp-tempered and snobbish, she detests the fire service personnel and their mean surroundings.

Christopher Roe

Christopher Roe, Richard’s son, who falls under the care and tutelage of Dy. A five-year-old at the novel’s outset, Christopher gradually loses interest in his father as a result of his prolonged separation from him. He...

(The entire section is 459 words.)