Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 750
Angélo Pardi (pahr-DEE), a twenty-five-year-old hussar colonel making his way home from France to Piedmont, where he had been involved in the Risorgimento (Italian revolution) and from which he had fled after killing an Austrian spy in a duel. As the horseman of the title, Angélo has a “rooftop” view of life, suggested by his flight across the rooftops of Manosque (the author’s native village) from angry and panicked villagers who think he has poisoned the town well. As he travels down the cholera-ridden Rhone Valley, he has the habit of questioning his own actions and motivations in the middle of the epidemic. This habit, his fearlessness, and his tendency to describe the epidemic in military terms are complemented by his complete sincerity, selflessness, and idealism. He has an innate sense of justice and believes in the primacy of individual conscience. After descending from the rooftops of Manosque, Angélo continues his journey, successfully meeting challenge after challenge in this heroic tale of self-discovery, which pits him against angry mobs, French militia, a variety of strange individuals, and, ultimately, nature, embodied mainly by the cholera epidemic.
Pauline de Théus
Pauline de Théus (tay-YEWS), the young wife of the elderly Marquis de Théus, who does not appear in the novel. She is the perfect complement to Angélo. It is she who helps him escape from Manosque. Described only as having a face like a fer-de-lance (a venomous tropical American snake or a spearhead), she is his equal in their shared journey, whether scaling walls, handling heavy military pistols, crawling on all fours, or examining her conscience. Like Angélo, she feels compelled to involve herself in the challenges of life under the cholera by confronting them directly. Whereas Angélo experiences elation in doing so, however, Pauline experiences fear. There is a suggestion that it may be her fear that makes her vulnerable to the cholera toward the end of the story, but she survives to continue in life with Angélo. Her survival coincides with the end of the cholera epidemic.
Giuseppe, Angélo’s foster brother and fellow revolutionary. He is opportunistic, in contrast to Angélo’s idealism. Ironically, it is he who spreads the rumor about the well of Manosque being poisoned, thus causing the townspeople to suspect Angélo and chase him onto the rooftops when they see him near the well.
The Doctor/Goldsmith, something of an alchemist living in a secluded and deserted mountain village. He is nameless and is the last character encountered, but he is the most important after Pauline and Angélo. He serves both as a spokesman for the author’s moral point of view and as a kind of mirror for Angélo, explaining the cholera’s relationship to humans in metaphorical terms. Meeting him marks the final stage in Angélo’s journey of self-discovery. Their discussion of the cholera includes the roles of selfishness and selflessness in one’s vulnerability to the disease. He specifically responds to Angélo’s queries regarding the behavior of other characters.
The little Frenchman
The little Frenchman, a young doctor who is never named. He inspires Angélo with his apparently selfless and untiring efforts to save victims of the cholera, only to succumb to the cholera himself. His own egotism is revealed, however, when he says that not a single one of the victims will give him the pleasure of saving them.
The nun, a cigar-smoking, no-nonsense sister who is devoted as much to helping cholera victims “pass over” as to helping them survive. She inspires Angélo with her lack of fear and the strength of her faith.
The solo clarinetist of the Marseilles Opera
The solo clarinetist of the Marseilles Opera, a man encountered in the countryside by Pauline and Angélo. He is also in the process of self-discovery in the wilderness of Provence and makes interesting comments about the cholera as some sort of just retribution for humans being out of harmony with nature.
The cloth merchant
The cloth merchant, the only inhabitant left in a village abandoned because of the cholera. He is a reflective man whose role is like that of the little Frenchman or the nun; that is, he gives Angélo food for thought about the moral meaning of the cholera, suggesting that it is the consequence of people failing to be aware of the earth.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 376
There is almost no development of character in The Horseman on the Roof, nor is there any attempt at complex psychological realism. The reader’s experience of characterization, then, becomes largely a matter of getting to know the two principal figures, who carry the symbolic weight of Giono’s meaning. The main character, Angelo, is young, wealthy, charming, generous, idealistic, quick to defend himself and others from injustice, and proud of his military skills and idealistic values. His generosity is most evident in his willingness to care for victims of cholera and in his absolute lack of fear that he might die of the disease himself. On the other hand, his spirits rise highest whenever he is given an opportunity to demonstrate his horsemanship and swordcraft. One admires Angelo, but at times he seems like a proud child, eager to show off his skills. His pride is balanced throughout the novel, however, by his cheerfulness and high spirits, and in the end, he is thoroughly likable.
Even though she has an important role only in the last part of the novel, Pauline is clearly also a major character. In many ways she is like Angelo: young, intelligent, capable of taking care of herself. She is high-spirited and proud of her ability to handle the pistols she carries. Pauline appears in the other novels which make up the “Hussard Cycle,” particularly Mort d’un personnage (1949); it seems clear that Giono modeled her on his own mother.
Several minor characters deserve mention, not only because they make very effective foils to set off the character of Angelo but also because Angelo himself thinks about them during moments of crisis. Giuseppe, for example, is important because, unlike Angelo, whose idealism drives him to kill the Austrian spy Baron Swartz in an open duel, he is practical: Giuseppe would have killed the baron with hired assassins. The altruistic are also important. Angelo admires the young doctor’s zeal, his hopeless devotion to curing. He also admires the nun who takes the washing of the bodies of the dead to be her holy duty. Ironically, she seems to have no interest in saving the lives of the victims but insists instead that she is preparing their bodies for the last judgment.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 42
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Goodrich, Norma L. Giono: Master of Fictional Modes, 1973.
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Redfern, W.D. The Private World of Jean Giono, 1967.
Smith, Maxwell A. Jean Giono, 1966.