Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 831
Edward Barnard Edward Barnard comes from a well-off family in Chicago and is Bateman Hunter’s best friend. But just after Edward becomes engaged to a suitable young lady, Isabel Longstaffe, his father loses his fortune. Edward is left penniless and is forced to do his business apprenticeship in Tahiti, thanks...
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Edward Barnard comes from a well-off family in Chicago and is Bateman Hunter’s best friend. But just after Edward becomes engaged to a suitable young lady, Isabel Longstaffe, his father loses his fortune. Edward is left penniless and is forced to do his business apprenticeship in Tahiti, thanks to the assistance of a family friend. Everyone expects great things from Edward, since he is handsome, capable, energetic, and ambitious. But the longer Edward stays in Tahiti, the more his values change. After two years there, he no longer aspires to become a captain of industry in Chicago, or to marry Isabel. On the contrary, he is quite content in a humble occupation in Tahiti, an island he has come to love. He has learned tolerance and understanding. Bateman implores him to return to Chicago and not waste his life, but Edward believes that he can best realize his new ideals of beauty and goodness in the South Seas.
Eva is Arnold Jackson’s beautiful young daughter by his wife Lavina. Edward Barnard plans to marry her.
Bateman Hunter is Edward Barnard’s best friend from their college days. They both fall in love with Isabel, but Bateman is magnanimous when Isabel chooses Edward. Bateman remains a loyal friend to both of them, keeping his real feelings for Isabel in check. He does not envy them their happiness. Bateman is ambitious about his career in a conventional kind of way, but his greatest virtue is his loyalty to his friend. When he travels to Tahiti, he has only Edward’s best interests at heart, but his encounter with an alien culture reveals some less appealing aspects of his personality. He is rigid, priggish, and stiff, unable to appreciate values and lifestyles other than his own. When faced with life in Tahiti, he is continually uncomfortable. He refuses to wear native clothes and is embarrassed when Eva places a garland on his head. He cannot relax but remains aloof and disapproving. However, Bateman’s motivations are impeccable, and he is a man of unshakable integrity. Only when it is certain that Edward and Isabel will not marry does he confess his love for her. He and Isabel seem to have every chance of happiness since they both have the same materialistic values.
Mr. Hunter is Bateman Hunter’s father. He is a wealthy Chicago businessman, the owner of Hunter Motor Traction and Automobile Company. He built his own house in the city to resemble a chateau on the Loire.
Arnold Jackson is Isabel’s uncle and the black sheep of the family. Many years before the story begins, he had a successful career in Chicago as a respected banker and was a philanthropist and church member. But he was convicted of fraud and served seven years in prison. His crimes involved such consistent and widespread dishonesty that there was nothing to mitigate his disgrace. His relatives never mentioned his name again, and his wife and children had to move to Europe to escape the stigma.
Jackson ended up in Tahiti. When Bateman visits the island, he desperately wants to avoid him but is unable to do so, since Jackson and Edward have become close friends. Jackson turns out to be rather different from the man Bateman imagined him. Bateman expects to find a rogue and a scoundrel, but Jackson is courteous and charming, an engaging storyteller and a perfect host. He speaks of his incarceration without embarrassment and appears to be happy and content. He loves the South Seas and accepts life serenely as it comes to him. Edward regards him as generous and kind, the most agreeable companion he has ever known.
Lavina is Arnold Jackson’s second wife. She is a native of Tahiti.
Isabel Longstaffe comes from one of Chicago’s elite families. She is educated, cultured, sophisticated and is a fine conversationalist. She is also slim and beautiful. Her personality is virtuous and upright, with an unyielding sense of honor. But she is also rigid in her judgments which once made, she never changes. Both Bateman and Edward love her. After she and Edward become engaged and Edward departs for Tahiti, she waits patiently for his return. She never doubts his love, but when she hears the bad news about his change of heart, she quickly accepts it and wastes no time on grieving. She is quick to pass adverse judgment on Edward, saying he is his own worst enemy and that he lacks backbone. When she accepts Bateman’s marriage proposal, she is happy because she knows she will have a large house with antique furniture (just like the one she grew up in) and will be able to give concerts and have dinner parties with all the most cultured people in Chicago.
Mr. Longstaffe is Isabel’s father. He advises Edward to avoid any contact in Tahiti with Arnold Jackson, his brother-in-law.