The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith Characters

Thomas Keneally

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As an aborigine, Jimmie Blacksmith is, almost by definition, a victim like his half brother Mort, but Jimmie’s plight is exacerbated by his mixed parentage. As Keneally depicts him, Jimmie soon loses his “black core” and even symbolically baptizes himself as a white man. Since white society is closed to him, however, Jimmie is a “hybrid,” a man “suspended between the loving tribal life and the European rapture from on high called falling in love.” When he turns against his heritage and embraces white values, he is the victim of failed expectations, but though he “resigns from the white cycle,” he cannot return to his past. Before his death, Jimmie is “lost beyond repair somewhere between the Lord God of Hosts and the shrunken cosmogony of his people.”

Tabidgi and Mort Blacksmith also serve as symbols of white suppression. Jimmie’s uncle, who belongs to the past, has nevertheless been corrupted; his motives for visiting Jimmie include not only the altruistic desire to return Jimmie’s initiation tooth but also the baser goal of receiving free liquor from his nephew. Mort, who chants and paints his face with white clay, clings to the past, and because he has not been tainted with white aspirations is an “innocent” who finally is “possessed” by Jimmie. As a tribal man, Mort does not want to shed woman’s blood, which is associated with tribal taboos; Jimmie, on the other hand, has directed his rage at the women who have...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jimmie Blacksmith

Jimmie Blacksmith, a half-white, half-aborigine man bent on achieving social status and material success through land ownership. He murders the families of two of his previous employers. Educated by a missionary, the twenty-two-year-old is perceptive and intelligent, but he is snobbish toward his aborigine kinfolk and frustrated by expectations of failure from his white employers. After being cheated out of wages on several jobs as a fence-builder and after witnessing and participating in the brutal treatment of an aborigine murder suspect while working as a police tracker, Jimmie explodes in a berserk rage of vengeance, killing the Newby women and children and, eventually, the Healy family. While eluding an extensive manhunt for several months, he discovers that he cannot claim the cultural identity of the Mungindi tribe. Captured, he converts to Christianity before he is hanged, as Australia, so obsessed with bringing him to justice, celebrates its independence.

Mort Blacksmith

Mort Blacksmith, Jimmie’s half brother, a full-blooded aborigine. Flippant and prone to fits of laughter, the seventeen-year-old Mort embodies innocence and tribal loyalty. Having left his job as a horse-breaker for white farmers, he accompanies his uncle and cousin in a futile effort to convince Jimmie not to marry a white woman, if he is to be considered a Mungindi man. Drawn into Jimmie’s violence, he kills a woman; later, during the pursuit of the brothers, he kills a man. Both acts apparently are in self-defense. Attempting to maintain tribal values of love and loyalty, Mort refuses to abandon Jimmie. He is shot to death while trying to save the life of their hostage, McCreadie.


Tabidgi (tah-BIHD-jee), or Jackie Smolders, Jimmie and Mort’s maternal uncle, a traditional man of the Tullam section of the Mungindi tribe. With his gray beard falling out in tufts, Tabidgi appears ancient relative to his forty-two years. An alcoholic but nevertheless deeply reverent toward his tribe’s mystical beliefs, he carries an initiation tooth to Jimmie to remind him of his obligation to marry within the aborigine kinship system. When Jimmie begins his murderous rampage, Tabidgi half-consciously participates out of terror; captured soon afterward, he is hanged along with Jimmie.

Peter Blacksmith

Peter Blacksmith, Jimmie’s fourteen-year-old cousin who travels with Tabidgi to deliver...

(The entire section is 1032 words.)