Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724
Thomas Dilbin, the shy, young narrator of his boyhood in a remote corner of Lithuania. An only child left by his parents to live with his grandparents, Thomas is lonely and consoles himself with the wonders of sky, river, and forest that surround him. His environment is a wondrous one in which pagan traditions still hold prominence under a Catholic surface. He soon realizes, however, that his heritage as a member of a Polish landowning family has set him apart from his own countrymen, zealous for the liberation of Lithuania and increasingly hostile to those whom they consider their oppressors.
Casimir Surkont, Thomas’ grandfather. Although a member of the Polish gentry, he eschews the traditional occupations of hunting and riding to concentrate on his garden. A lover of peace, he is criticized frequently for his tolerance of and sympathies toward the Lithuanians.
Baltazar, a forester on lands belonging to the Surkonts. Tortured by his senseless killing of a soldier and driven by a black, incoherent dissatisfaction that is destroying his life, Baltazar turns to drink. His manic outbursts and sporadic violence cause others to believe that he is possessed by a devil. In a final act of demonic rage, he destroys all that he has worked for and forces his neighbors to hunt him down.
Romuald Bukowski (ROHM-wahld bew-KOW-skee), Thomas’ idol and initiator into the world of the forest. Thomas tries to imitate him in all ways, and his failure to duplicate the hunter’s prowess is the first great tragedy of his young life. At first, Romuald is flattered by the attention paid to him by Thomas’ Aunt Helen, but he eventually marries his peasant housekeeper, Barbarka, against the wishes of his mother, who is horrified at this affront to the family name and position.
Magdalena, the housekeeper and mistress of the parish priest. After the priest banishes her to a faraway village, she commits suicide. Her body is returned home for burial. Convinced that her spirit is haunting the rectory and its surroundings, the villagers try to exorcise her ghost. When that fails, they resort to a horrible pagan ritual. Magdalena’s life and fate haunt Thomas’ youthful dreams.
Grandmother Dilbin, Thomas’ paternal grandmother. Forced to take shelter with the Surkonts, she dies far from home, blaming her weaknesses for the faults of her sons. Her happy and secure childhood in Riga left her ill-prepared for the harsh realities of life.
Grandmother Misia Surkont
Grandmother Misia Surkont, Thomas’ maternal grandmother. The exact opposite of Grandmother Dilbin, she cares little for the problems of others. Although her surname is Lithuanian and her family has lived in the region for generations, she delights in patronizing those who are not Polish.
Joseph, Thomas’ tutor. A fervent Lithuanian nationalist, he is obliged to teach Thomas to read and write in Polish.
Dominic Malinowski (mah-lih-NOWS-kee), a peasant boy who was Thomas’ first hero. A life of subjugation as a tenant on the estates of others has marked him with bitterness and humiliation. To overcome his feelings of inferiority, he tries to dominate others.
Father Monkiewicz (MAHN-keh-vihch), a high-strung parish priest. The son of peasants, he is the spiritual leader of both the landless and the gentry. Although convinced of the reality of the restlessness of Magdalena’s spirit, he refuses to grant permission to desecrate her body.
Father Peiksva (PAYKS-vah), another parish priest and Magdalena’s lover, known for his golden oratory. He allows her body to be buried in sacred ground and later quietly leaves the parish.
Barbarka, Romuald’s beautiful, peasant housekeeper. Her one goal is to become the true mistress of his home, and she succeeds.
Aunt Helen, Thomas’ aunt and beekeeper of the estate. She constantly schemes to better her financial situation. She is enamored of Romuald until driven away by Barbarka.
Tekla Dilbin, Thomas’ mother. Long absent from her family home, she is only a beautiful legend to Thomas. Although he is overcome by gratitude at her unexpected return, he still harbors feelings of resentment at her abandonment of him.
Masuilis (mah-sew-IH-lihs), the wizard of the village, whose incantations and spells are equal, in the villagers’ eyes, to any medicine or spiritual advice.
Lucas, Helen’s ludicrous husband.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 231
One of the most important aspects of Czesaw Miosz’s method of characterization is that Thomas is the only character who really changes or develops. This, however, does not mean that the characterization is not successful. His portrayal of Grandfather Surkont is masterful; Miosz uses physical characteristics and sounds to portray him. The two grandmothers are also impressively and differently characterized. Grandmother Surkont is indifferent to everything but herself and her immediate comforts, while Grandmother Dilbin seems to be involved in everything.
Balthazar is the most important and interesting of the peasant characters. He actively feels the presence of the demons as they take over and control his actions. He is not a typical peasant but a complicated and divided character who cannot decide whether to follow the traditional ways or rebel and preserve his land and cottage. This division destroys him. Romuald Bukowski is a typical character; he is the independent male who cares for such masculine pursuits as hunting and fishing. Yet Miosz does reveal other aspects of Romuald’s character; he is very gentle when he teaches Thomas how to hunt, and he is understanding when Thomas fails. He also shows that he is not a prisoner of his class when he marries a poor woman, although the motivating factor in his decision is that the new wife will allow him to continue his male pursuits and comforts.