Themes and Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 820

Footsteps presents a collection of memorable characters, many of whom turn out to be something other than what they at first seem. The naive and trusting main character, twelve-year-old William Jones, has led a sheltered life in a wealthy home. Other important characters include Mr. Seed, a dwarf whose hostile...

(The entire section contains 820 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Footsteps presents a collection of memorable characters, many of whom turn out to be something other than what they at first seem. The naive and trusting main character, twelve-year-old William Jones, has led a sheltered life in a wealthy home. Other important characters include Mr. Seed, a dwarf whose hostile behavior toward people of normal size masks a warm nature; Mr. Robinson, a handsome young man with a friendly demeanor hiding a heart full of hatred; and Shot-in-the-Head, a young thief whose ragamuffin way of life conceals a love of beauty and a true code of honor.

After the death of his father, William is left with two older sisters and a mother who loves him but who succumbs to the malevolent influence of her brother, Uncle Turner. The uncle's dislike and distrust of the boy make William's life desperately unhappy. Soon, William again hears his father's footsteps, as if his ghost remains troubled. William sets out for London in search of Alfred Diamond, the former business partner, to make amends so that both he and his father's ghost may be at peace.

In the city, William encounters many people, some of whom callously refuse to help him, some of whom offer aid but do not follow through, and some of whom do help for various reasons. Lawyer K'Nee refuses to assist William in finding Diamond, believing the latter has suffered enough from the Jones family. But K'Nee does give William the good advice that he should not trust people too much and should always keep "something in reserve." K'Nee's law clerk, Jenkins, and his porter, Mr. Seed, agree to help William, but Jenkins proves to be in partnership with Mr. Robinson, who tries to kill William. Mr. Robinson is in fact John Diamond, Alfred's son, a criminal with a hatred for all the Joneses because of the cheating incident years before. Seed charges William money for guiding him around the city and for providing him a place to stay, but he becomes genuinely interested in helping the boy. John Diamond leads a gang of boy thieves whom he sends to harm William. But one of them, Shot-in-the-Head, later proves to be a real friend, endangering his own life to save William's.

William is a child at the beginning of the novel, ready to believe anything an adult tells him. At first, he accepts without question the advice that several characters give him about people and behavior. As he gains experience, however, he realizes he must exercise his own judgment. At the book's end, William has learned that many people are eager to take advantage of a young man's gullibility. But he rejects the cynicism of Uncle Turner and K'Nee, who believe that people will not act honorably unless forced to do so by the law. He accepts instead the belief---expressed by Mr. Seed and his own mother---that there is good in everyone. This belief is vindicated when Shot-in-the-Head returns William's lost purse for no reason other than gratitude.

Footsteps is a coming-of-age story in which a boy becomes a man within the span of a few days, learning that not everyone is honest or genuine; that people who appear unattractive or unworthy may actually be the ones most worth knowing; that those who have the least wealth may be the most generous in sharing what they have; and that, in order to gain a friend, one must be a friend. Garfield's treatment of these familiar ideas is fresh and engaging. Coming-of-age is an important theme in literature, found in works ranging from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

William's travels in the book symbolize his moral quest, in which he moves from an unquestioning acceptance of the moral code preached to him by various older people to a secure ability to distinguish between good and evil. As he learns to make this distinction and acquires a determination to stand up for his own principles, he becomes a truly moral person.

A secondary theme of the book is the contrast between the innocence of life in the countryside or in a small town and the wickedness of life in the big city. Although William experiences hatred and selfishness from Uncle Turner even within his small village, it is not until he reaches London that he encounters real evil. The violence of "Robinson" and his young thieves, the betrayal by Jenkins, and the readiness of many people to take advantage of a child's trust, all make London a threatening place—one that is frequently equated with Hell in Garfield's vivid description. But William also learns that some of the city's residents are good, even though the hardships of city life often force people to hide the good within themselves. When William returns to village life, it is with a deeper understanding and appreciation of people, whose generosity he had earlier taken for granted.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Footsteps Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Summary

Next

Analysis