The Characters

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In A Generous Man , Milo comes of age. This development in many ways is the subject of the novel. As the title implies, Milo learns to become a generous man: “generous” as that term applies to adult relationships and a “man” as the word connotes maturity rather than chronological...

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In A Generous Man, Milo comes of age. This development in many ways is the subject of the novel. As the title implies, Milo learns to become a generous man: “generous” as that term applies to adult relationships and a “man” as the word connotes maturity rather than chronological age. Milo learns to give as well as take in his relationship with Lois, and he learns that manhood has little to do with years.

Although Price compresses time to allow hours to stand for months, so that by the end of the novel Milo has developed several years’ worth of maturity, the independence of maturity from chronological age is not farfetched. At the novel’s beginning, the reader meets a cocky, swaggering Milo, proud at having “conquered” his first female. The protagonist thinks that his sexual initiation has made him a man. What Milo does not know, and what Lois cannot teach him, is that the mature male both gives and takes. Frustrated that her lover seems interested only in taking, Lois continually emphasizes the necessity to “give” in a relationship. At the novel’s beginning, Milo tries to arrange another meeting with Lois. His clumsiness upon their initial encounter brings this reply from the girl: “Wait till tonight—what for, I ask you? Forty-five minutes in dirty pine straw with a teen-age farmer that I’ll never see after sunup tomorrow? If that’s all you’re offering, if that’s all you’re hauling me round town for, you can keep it, boy.”

Using this same rebuke as a stepping stone, Milo sets out on his quest for self-understanding, his rites of passage, in the form of the search for the missing trio. By juxtaposing Milo’s actions to those of the “older, more experienced” men in the posse, Price shows Milo learning and growing. A vivid imagination haunts the protagonist, making him question his constant desire for sex and forcing his conscience to question the moral validity of this desire to use people. This situation becomes clear in the adolescent’s encounter with Kate Pomeroy, as Milo suddenly realizes that the world is a very complex place and lust for sensual pleasure creates more problems than it solves.

When the guilty, drunken Milo staggers into an encounter with a ghost—Lois’s father—he faces the wages of sin. Milo’s dreamworld haunts him with images of his own dead father, a no-good drunkard who deserted the family. Milo sees some of himself in the man, and it frightens him. Finally, he defeats Death, the snake. By punishing himself and by stretching his own questioning conscience, Milo grows, so that by the novel’s end, he is a man. He has learned to give, telling the family preacher, Mr. Favro, “I know I’m a child, but I haven’t stood still. I have learned some things. . . . These past three nights, these two clear days, I been handing out stuff like the whole Red Cross, like loaves and fishes to people on the hills.”

By the end of the novel, then, this mature, learned, giving Milo becomes ready to give to his love, Lois. They make love with each other—the moment Lois has been waiting for. A precocious character, matured by her years on the carnival circuit yet sensitive enough to resist cynicism, Lois understands much of what Milo must learn, yet she, too, must undergo her own rites of passage and face the truth about the past. When Milo tells her at the end of the novel that the woman rearing her as an aunt is her mother, Lois replies: “I have known that all my life, but it slipped my mind till an hour ago.”

Each of Price’s other characters serves an important function in the novel, and each attains a distinct identity. For example, Sheriff Rooster Pomeroy frustrates both himself and his wife with his inadequacies, driving both to lewd behavior; Price, however, treats them both sympathetically, even comically, the palm-reading Lois telling the sheriff that his wife will have a child soon. With Kate Pomeroy, Price illustrates a moral ambiguity by making her numerous love affairs a symptom of her haunting past and her frustrating present, rather than simply making her a small-town slut.

Even Rato, the retarded brother, rises above the stereotype, as Price gives him an acuity not present in other characters. The drunken veterinarian declares Phillip rabid, but Rato knows all along that the dog only has worms. Emerging from the woods at the end of the novel, Rato declares matter-of-factly that Phillip is fine: “Nothing but worms and he’s cured of that, found grass he needed hunting you all’s snake.”

Characters Discussed

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Milo Mustian

Milo Mustian, a teenage boy struggling to become a man. Fairly short, with red hair, he looks exactly like his cousin Tom Ryden. Only fifteen years old, Milo is proud and cocky, as he demonstrates by bragging about his sexual encounter with Lois Provo, a girl he met at the Warren County Fair. As the oldest child in a household without a father, he shoulders numerous responsibilities and finds himself involved in two separate hunts. The first is a search for his brother Rato, the family dog, Phillip, and an Indian python, Death. The other is a quest for his own identity and for understanding of the world around him.

Lois Provo

Lois Provo, Milo’s girlfriend. Sixteen years old, with long black hair, she is Milo’s first paramour and also one of his first close friends. She travels along the eastern seaboard of the United States with her aunt/mother Selma Provo as part of the fair. Together, she and her mother take care of forty-six snakes, the main attraction being Death, an eighteen-foot python.

Selma Provo

Selma Provo, Lois’ mother, masquerading as her aunt. A short, plain woman around fifty years of age, she has spent the last sixteen years tending snakes and telling lies. Trying to shield Lois as well as herself from the truth, she concocts a story that her sister Edith Provo died giving birth to Tom Ryden’s illegitimate daughter, Lois. Milo discovers that Edith never existed and that Selma actually is Lois’ mother rather than her aunt.

Rosacoke Mustian

Rosacoke Mustian, Milo’s younger sister. Like Milo, Rosacoke assumes many family responsibilities, including cooking, washing, and tending her baby sister. Although only eleven years old, she already has resigned herself to a life of drudgery and misery. Lois reads her palm and indicates that Rosacoke will meet a man, bear his child, and then marry him.

Horatio (Rato) Mustian

Horatio (Rato) Mustian, Milo’s younger brother. Mentally slow, Rato is quiet and withdrawn and prefers animals to people. When Phillip, the family dog, becomes ill, Rato attempts to carry the creature several miles to get him to a veterinarian. A sensitive individual, he removes Phillip’s muzzle even though the dog supposedly is dangerous because of an illness.

Phillip

Phillip, the family dog. Diagnosed with everything from worms to rabies, he is supposed to be shot, but he escapes from Rato at the county fair and begins chasing Death, Lois’ python. When Rato and Phillip fail to return home, a posse begins to search for them and Death.

Death

Death, an eighteen-foot python given by Tom Ryden as a gift to Lois and Selma Provo. Death has a monetary value of five hundred dollars, but he also takes on a symbolic meaning as the posse becomes obsessed with finding him.

Rooster Pomeroy

Rooster Pomeroy, the town sheriff and posse leader. Easily distinguished by his large bulk and his stained panama hat, he pairs himself with Milo during the hunt and continually offers the boy advice on handling women. Ironically, Rooster has nothing to crow about, for he and Kate Pomeroy, his wife, are experiencing marital problems. He eventually sends Milo to his house, fairly sure that the youth and his wife will end up in bed together.

Kate Pemberton Pomeroy

Kate Pemberton Pomeroy, Rooster’s wife. A twenty-seven-year-old woman with huge black eyes, she is haunted by her past. After seducing Milo, she reveals that years ago she had met Tom Ryden, Milo’s look-alike cousin, in a jail cell. Tom had asked her to bear his child, but she refused. Since that time, she has attempted suicide twice at the realization of the passion she has lost.

Tom Ryden

Tom Ryden, a shiftless wanderer. Physically a middle-aged version of Milo, Tom is believed by everyone to have been killed in World War II. Although he does not make his brief appearance until two-thirds of the way into the novel, his relationships to Lois, Selma, and Kate cause interesting plot twists. Milo is forced to kill him in self-defense when he begins to lose his mind and attacks the boy.

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