Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517
Lachlen (Lachie) McLachlen
Lachlen (Lachie) McLachlen (LO-kee), a twenty-one-year-old Scottish soldier fighting for the British in the Burmese campaign of World War II. Small, slightly built, feisty, proud, solitary, independent, and surly, Lachie was orphaned as a child, has no family or friends, and has never trusted or been friendly with anyone. He yearns for companionship but is afraid to open himself up to people for fear of being rejected and deserted. When a piece of shrapnel destroys one of his kidneys, leaving the remaining kidney defective, Lachie is doomed to die within six weeks. Unaware of his condition, Lachie is placed in the convalescent ward of a military hospital so he can have friends around him when he dies. Lachie is so suspicious and unfriendly at first, however, that the men of the ward must struggle to be kind and comforting. A surprise birthday party and the gift of a kilt touch him deeply, and he becomes gregarious, attempting to befriend all the men and proposing marriage to the attractive young nurse of the ward, Margaret. When he discovers that he is going to die, Lachie becomes angry again, accusing the men and Margaret of merely pitying him.
Yank, an American from the deep South, the putative leader of the men in the convalescent ward. In his late twenties, Yank stutters when he gets excited, and when he loses his temper he recites the books of the Bible to recover his composure. Blond, wholesome, and easygoing, but prone to anger, Yank dislikes Scotsmen and the sound of bagpipes. He is frequently driven to anger by Lachie’s behavior but leads the attempts to befriend him.
Margaret, the attractive twenty-one-year-old British nurse who runs the ward. Compassionate and kind, she has an easy and assured manner with the men and is patient with Lachie’s unpleasant behavior. After Lachie proposes to her, she is unsure whether her acceptance of him is based on real romantic interest or on pity.
Digger, another patient in the ward, a dark Australian of about thirty, good-natured, gregarious, athletic, and thickly muscular. He is a paratrooper and the boxing champion of his regiment.
Tommy, the comic butt of most of the jokes and taunts in the ward, a short, exceedingly fat British Cockney with a thick accent. Lazy and fun-loving, he responds to everyone’s good-natured taunting with childlike playfulness.
Kiwi, another patient in the ward, a very tall, blond New Zealander in his middle twenties who will make a bet on anything to ease the boredom of confinement.
Blossom, the least talkative patient, a huge African Basuto who knows only one word of English, his name. When Blossom offers the departing and angry Lachie a gift of beads, unaware of Lachie’s impending death, the act proves that pure human concern unalloyed by pity is possible.
The Colonel, the medical officer and surgeon who places Lachie in the ward, asking the men to befriend Lachie to make his last days pleasant.
Orderly, a young British man who helps Margaret in the ward.
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