Because Faith and the Good Thing is a philosophical novel with an element of folktale, the characters are less clearly developed than they might be in a realistic novel. Dr. Richard M. Barrett, Arnold T. Tippis, Isaac Maxwell, and Alpha Omega Holmes all represent different versions of the Good Thing, and therefore their personal qualities are subordinated to their almost allegorical significance.
Furthermore, the folktale element of the novel, which is the source of much of its charm, nevertheless permits characters to escape from the normal requirements of realism into unexplained motives and actions. Lavidia Cross is persuaded to die because she hears that a human being is permitted only a preordained number of breaths. Similarly, Dr. Richard M. Barrett, the thief and philosopher, rather surprisingly returns Faith’s money and stays to become, for a time, the center of her life, with his empty Doomsday Book, in which Faith can read the story of her childhood.
As for the Swamp Woman, whenever she appears, she delivers oracular truths and performs magic; one cannot, however, explore her motivations any more than one can those of Dr. Barrett. At the end of the novel, when the Swamp Woman delivers her identity to the dead Faith, it is clear that Johnson is making a philosophical point rather than revealing the psychology of a real character. The storyteller who reappears to speak the last sentences in the novel refuses to deal in truth. If it is good, and...
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