Abigail is the most difficult of the characters to understand because the entire action of the novel is played through her consciousness. Consequently, a reader has the task of clarifying Abigail’s role in the drama as the narrator clarifies the roles of William and Margaret and brings them to life out of her own memories. Adding to the complexity of the character of Abigail is her growth from childhood innocence, to naïve adolescence, to unthinking young adulthood, and finally to an adult awareness of the presence of evil in her community and in herself. Whether Abigail will go on to destroy the community is unclear at the end of the novel, though the novel’s end circles back to its beginning, a November evening in which, with pristine clarity, the stripped trees, bleached grass, drought-shrunken river, and granite outcroppings mirror the condition of Abigail’s soul.
Though William and Margaret have historic roles to play in the chronicle of the South, they are also presented as mythic characters endowed with mysterious attributes and living in their own supernal world. Both are more comfortable in natural surroundings than in society. Both pit their strength against the natural world while willingly aligning themselves with it. Before he meets Margaret, William spends three days in a swamp in a kind of cleansing ritual. Margaret appears to have inherited some of the magic of her great-grandmother, whose hand carries the jagged scar of ceremonial...
(The entire section is 471 words.)