Coming into the Country Characters
by John McPhee

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Coming into the Country Characters

Coming into the Country does not have characters in the conventional sense, as the book is not so much a progressive narrative as it is a semi-scholarly description of a place. As such, it does not have set protagonists or antagonists, but rather ordinary people who constitute the life and activity of the state. The characters who make up this panoply of Alaskan life are the Eskimos, residents, Indians, governments, and corporations who constantly break the frontier into various zones to be used for distinct purposes.

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Many characters in the story are set up to extol Alaska’s magnificent environment. McPhee’s opening chapter, in which he reminisces about looking down the Salmon River, puts on display the splendid beauty and abundance of Alaskan wildlife. The water of the river is clear, crashing over rocks as it streams by, the circular-shaped salmon are in high abundance, and the Alaskan bears come out to feast on their prey. The natural characters here that McPhee is using serve to highlight the serenity of the wilderness. Furthermore, McPhee contraposes this serenity to the ugliness he associates with certain of the detached human inhabitants of the state. Walter Hickel, for example, current governor of Alaska, makes his home in Anchorage, and McPhee bemoans its drabness in comparison with the surrounding nature: “Hickel’s is a heavy, substantial home, its style American Dentist.” McPhee then goes on to claim that the neighborhood itself struggled to maintain an air of affluence but not “to find Alaska" (pg. 134–135).

Several other of McPhee’s characters—the indigenous populace, government contractors, construction workers, and heavy machinery operators, articulate around a central theme of the book—the drilling for oil in the Alaskan landscape. McPhee is actually somewhat approving of the process, and his description of the Alaskan natives, how they...

(The entire section is 455 words.)