The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although Stephens and Catherwood are the main characters of Journey to the Sky, they are not the most interesting. As archaeologists, they are gifted amateurs, nineteenth century gentlemen who have a yen to traipse through the jungle but who say things like “Shocking, shocking!” Instead of worrying about snakes and bandits, they worry about getting their clothes muddy or not getting their meals on time. One reward of the novel is to see them devoured by mosquitoes and niguas while their Indian servants remain untouched.

Stephens and Catherwood, however, are adaptable. By the end of the novel, they have begun to dress and smell like their mule drivers, though they still do not repel mosquitoes. Yet their adaptation only fits them to exercise their sense of Manifest Destiny with greater assurance. They investigate the Palenque ruins despite a Mexican ban on archaeologists; indeed, Stephens plans to buy the Palenque ruins and transport them to New York City. His plans never succeed, though at one time he is willing to marry a local girl to qualify as a purchaser. One thing to his and Catherwood’s credit is their intense interest in the Maya, for whose civilization they helped develop a new appreciation.

More interesting than the explorers are the local people, mostly descendants of the Maya. These people are extraordinarily gentle and hospitable, easily impressed by the strangers, especially when Stephens dons his...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Lloyd Stephens

John Lloyd Stephens, an American lawyer, diplomat, explorer, and travel writer. After practicing law for several years, the adventurous Stephens has traveled for two years in Africa, Europe, and Asia and written two well-received books on his travels. He comes across a report by Colonel Juan Galindo that mentions seeing some strange old buildings in the wilds of the Yucatán and Central America. He decides to find these ruins. He enlists his friend, Frederick Catherwood, as the expedition’s artist. Equipped with an unexpected appointment as President Martin Van Buren’s confidential agent to the Central American Confederation, this versatile and adaptable man sets out to find the Indian ruins. After landing in a country in the midst of civil war, then coping with treacherous terrain and a troublesome muleteer who deliberately misguides them, he and Catherwood at last find the ruins of Copan, an ancient Mayan city of worship, now overgrown with centuries of vegetation. Although beset by mosquitoes and hot weather, Stephens sets about the task of clearing idols and monuments, and Catherwood draws them. Later, he and Catherwood set out on a long trek across Central America to the ruins at Palenque. Despite bouts with malaria, mosquitoes, and other parasites, he and Catherwood manage to explore these ruins, as well as another set at Uxmal. Stephens dies in 1852 of malaria contracted while he is president of the Panama Railway Company, never having returned to the ruins he uncovered at Copan. His work there was largely forgotten until the 1940’s.

Frederick Catherwood

Frederick Catherwood, an English architect. Officially signed as the expedition’s artist, Catherwood was much more Stephens’ exploring partner. After persevering with Stephens through the adventures of getting to the ruins at Copan, he...

(The entire section is 768 words.)