Killing Mister Watson Characters
by Peter Matthiessen

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Killing Mister Watson Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Killing Mister Watson is narrated by a potpourri of characters — ten in all, plus a fictionalized "historian" — who act in the "story" they relate but also stand outside as commentators and reflectors. They include Henry Thompson, Watson's foreman and devoted surrogate son; Richard Hamilton, a Calusa Indian midwife and patriarch of one of the county's most prolific families; Bill House, one of Watson's executioners; and Carrie Watson, his daughter, who exhibits changing perceptions and loyalties, and is an exemplar of ineffective and well dressed feminine morality.

In these narrators, Matthiessen has assembled a cast who, through a series of narrative "interviews," provide access points into the multiplicities of the Watson legend. Along with those who speak directly, the reader is also introduced to a community of coastal farmers, hunters, and fishermen, and a ragbag of oddball types who give depth to the fictional construct. These range from Jean Chevalier the eccentric French ornithologist, treasure hunter, and cynic, to Hannah Smith, a "wild woman" who hacks her way clear across the Everglades only to be murdered on Watson's plantation.

To an extent, this varied cast provides a typology of character that exemplifies strains of the novel's thematics — Hamilton the Indian sage, Jim Cole the small town politico, Frank B. Tippins the resolute lawman, Mamie Smallwood the storekeeper's durable wife — yet the trajectory of the narrations moves the reader farther away from any sense of certainty as to what events actually took place amid the "thousand islands" of the Everglades. Instead, these voices reveal only the intricacies of self-interest and self justification. Although many of the characters are striking in their evocation, any attempt to privilege one of their voices over another ends in futility; each is subsumed by the ensemble. They are in a sense less characters than eyes, variously trained on the variability that is E. J. Watson.