Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1522
Franklin Biggs is a black man, descended from Sallie Biggs, Michael Rowen’s slave. He ‘‘controls’’ the African-American population in Howsen County. He makes deals with both Joshua and James, neither of whom seems to really like him, but he does not care. He gets what he wants for his community. He is a successful business man, who can deliver the ‘‘black vote’’ and can influence his community to go along with whatever Blue Star Mining wants. Franklin also lacks any connection to the land and does not share in Joshua’s joy at seeing the wolf.
Sallie Biggs is the slave Michael Rowen brings home just before Patrick kills him. She is pregnant with Michael’s son, but she does not tell anyone who the father is until Patrick tries to sell the boy to pay off debts. She begs Patrick not to sell her son, but he does anyway. Her descendants lead the civil rights struggle in the latter parts of the cycle.
Tommy is Mary Anne’s husband. He has been in love with her for most of his life. He took a mining job when all the farm land was sold to the Blue Star Mine. He works hard and tries to help with the unionizing effort, but gets frightened at the end. He sells out his fellow organizers and Mary Anne publicly rejects him and he is killed by a group of angry strikers.
Morning Star is Michael Rowen’s Cherokee wife. He kidnaps her from her tribe, rapes her, and treats her badly. After she attempts to escape, he cuts the tendons in her leg so that she will always limp. Morning Star becomes resigned to her fate; she teaches her son, Patrick, to hate and fear his father. She finally convinces Patrick to kill his father so that she can finally be free to live with her lover, Joe Talbert. When Patrick kills Joe as well, Morning Star is devastated, but swears revenge. Years later, she forces her son and grandsons to forfeit their land to Talbert’s heir. While Morning Star may love her son, she never forgets that he is his father’s child, nor what his father did to her and her people. Nor does she forgive.
As Patrick Rowen’s direct heir, Zeke (also known as Ezekiel) inherits not only his father’s bloodlust, but also his grandfather’s as well. Zeke becomes a minister bent on revenging for his family against the Talberts. He devises a plan to kill all the male Talberts, including ten-year-old Randall, and destroy the two daughters (through rape and torture) so that there will be no one to stop the Rowens from reclaiming the land. Unlike his brother, Zeke does not see anything wrong with Patrick selling his own half-brother, nor in threatening Randall, nor anything wrong with a minister planning rapes and murders.
Jed Rowen carries on the family tradition of lying and murder when he kills Richard Talbert and then oversees the murder of Randall Talbert and the rapes of his sisters, Rose Anne and Julia Anne. Jed reclaims the Rowen land but proves to be just as unlucky as his grandfather was. He sells the mineral rights to his land for a dollar an acre when it is worth $15,000 to $20,000 per acre.
Joshua Rowen, along with James Talbert Winston, and Franklin Biggs, is one of the major characters in the last part of The Kentucky Cycle. He is, unlike the rest of his ancestors, an honorable man. He is president of the local miners’ union and tries to balance what is good for the individual members and the overall industry. He agrees to allow the mine to keep operating even though it is not safe and his son, Scotty, is killed in a cave-in. Joshua feels a connection with the land, raped and neglected as it is, which the other characters do not feel. He is connected to the land in a way that not even Michael or Morning Star were. He feels the land’s pain and rejoices in the opportunity to save it at the end of the cycle. He discovers the body of Patrick’s sister, buried 200 years before and forces the other men to return the mummified body to the earth. Joshua ends the cycle in the sheer joy of the wilderness as he watches a wolf run across the ridge.
Mary Anne Rowen
Mary Anne is Jed’s daughter. She is almost destroyed when the mining companies come in and cut down her trees and rip the guts out of her mountains. In a final defeat, she marries a local boy, Tommy Jackson, and watches as all of her sons die of typhoid. Abe Steinman encourages Mary Anne to think about a miners’ union. After his arrest and Tommy’s betrayal of the cause, Mary Anne rejects her husband, takes back her maiden name, and leads the fight for a union in the mines. She becomes a mythical figure who inspires future generations of miners and their families.
Michael Rowen is the founder of the Rowen family and the main character in the first two plays. He also establishes the moral tone of the plays. He is a thief, a liar, and a murderer. As the cycle opens, Michael kills Earl Tod, the Scottish trapper who trades with the Cherokee in the area. He then kills his accomplice, Sam, to prove his ‘‘trustworthiness’’ to the Cherokee. Michael’s bloodshed continues as he infects the Cherokee with smallpox and kidnaps a young Cherokee woman, Morning Star and makes her his wife. He continues to threaten her and even kills the girl child that she has after giving birth to a son. The violence, rage, and murder within Michael get passed down to all of his descendants, so Michael is the key character to understanding the other characters in the play.
Patrick Rowen is Morning Star and Michael’s son. Their other child, a girl, is killed by Michael when she is born. Patrick never forgot that action and hates his father for it. He also fears his father. He feels victimized by everyone around him: his father, his mother, his love, Rebecca, and her father, Joe Talbert. He kills his father, Rebecca’s father, forces his mother to flee for her life, and rapes Rebecca in a watered-down version of his own parents’ ‘‘marriage.’’ When Morning Star returns years later, she witnesses Patrick selling everything to an unnamed stranger who owns the mortgage on his property. Patrick even sells his own half-brother, Jessie Biggs. His own son, Zach, cannot stand Patrick’s actions and flees. Unlike his father, Patrick lives to be an ancient man who drools and fantasizes about revenge.
Zachariah (also known as Zach) Rowen is Patrick’s youngest son. He sees no difference between himself, his brother, and Jessie Biggs, the son of his family’s slave, Sallie. When he finds out that Jessie is actually Patrick’s half-brother, he pleads with his father not to sell him, and when Patrick does, Zach leaves the farm never to be heard from again. Zach represents the Rowens’ conscience and without him they descend into moral depravity.
Abe Steinman is a union organizer who decides that The Blue Star Mine, built on what used to be the Rowen land, is ripe for unionizing. He is successful in getting the miners’ wives and some of the miners to join him, but they are betrayed by Tommy and he is killed.
This is Joe Talbert’s son, who returns to get revenge against Patrick. Aided by Morning Star and the legal system, Jeremiah forces Patrick to sell him everything he has and forces him to become a sharecropper on his own land.
Richard Talbert is Jeremiah Talbert’s son and so owns the land that was formerly Patrick’s land. Zeke and his son, Jed, plan their revenge and begin with Richard. Jed joins Richard’s Civil War company and kills Richard in the middle of a battle.
James Talbert Winston
James is the owner of Blue Star Mine, descendant of Jeremiah Talbert, and an emotionless capitalist. He does not care about the safety of his workers, but only his profit margin. When the cavein kills over twenty miners, including Joshua Rowen’s son, James cannot really apologize because it is his fault. However, he and Joshua and Franklin Biggs become friends as the movers and shakers of Howsen County. He digs up the body of Patrick Rowen’s sister and wants to sell the beautifully beaded baby quilt Morning Star had made for her doomed infant. At the end of the cycle, he realizes that mining is a dead profession, but he cannot see any value to the land nor can he feel any connection to this place. He, like Franklin, looks on as Joshua yells with the wolf, thinking he has gone crazy.
See Zachariah Rowen
See Ezekiel Rowen
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