The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Of the sprawling and complex cast of characters, Abner and Jerusha Hale, Malama and Keoki Kanakoa, Char Nyuk Tsin, and Kamejiro and Shigeo Sakagawa are perhaps the best drawn. As the novel progresses, the characters, particularly those of the dominant political and business group of the missionaries’ descendants who tend to have the same family names in various combinations, become sketchy and blurred, necessitating referral to the eight pages of genealogical charts that are provided in an appendix.

Abner Hale is perhaps the most complex individual. In many respects narrow, prejudiced, and unprepossessing, he can at the same time be tender, compassionate, and courageous. Though he is beaten physically, he does not avoid confrontations in defense of his convictions. Developing from a callow and bigoted youth to a young man of moral and physical courage, he wins the honest respect and love of Jerusha. Malama Kanakoa, a majestic woman, well over six feet tall and weighing more than three hundred pounds, is literally as well as figuratively larger than life. Though she wavers between Christianity and the old gods, she accepts many of Hale’s teachings and the laws that he proposes, convinced that though accepting them will be at a personal cost to herself, it is best for the welfare of her subjects. Keoki Kanakoa, acclaimed and respected when he recruits missionaries, is deeply distressed to be rejected as a full-fledged minister when the missionaries arrive in Hawaii. Until then, he has been able to reconcile his old faith with his new one. His reversion to the old religion and marriage with his sister is as much an act of desperation as of...

(The entire section is 676 words.)