The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Two characters dominate this novel: the wireless operator, Adcock, who narrates the story, and the flying boat’s pilot and captain, Bennett. Through them, and through the minor characters in this narrative, Sillitoe explores the motivations that drive men to act in a world devoid of meaning.

Sillitoe’s narrator is a curious combination of observer and quester. Trained to be a listener at his wireless set, Adcock is also a listener in a larger sense: He takes in what others tell him about themselves, about their experiences, about their hopes, desires, and frustrations; he sifts it in his own mind as he tries to make sense of human experience. Isolated from the world in several ways—a recent divorcee, a man without steady employment—he hires on with a strange captain and crew for an adventure whose purpose is only vaguely clear to him. The fact that the other members of the flying boat crew all served together under Bennett only serves to heighten Adcock’s isolation. Through him, Sillitoe is able to introduce the reader obliquely to this clandestine world of piracy and lawlessness—a world that stands in microcosm for the larger, postwar world.

Like many of Sillitoe’s other heroes, Adcock is painfully alone in a world that appears as a jungle, where individuals act from personal motives, for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Through Adcock, the reader learns something of the motives that drive men on the fringes of modern society to act as they do. Adcock’s frustrations help the reader to see the immense difficulty modern man has in trying to make...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

“Sparks” Adcock

“Sparks” Adcock, the narrator, a wireless radio operator on a mysterious flying boat expedition. The youngest and newest member of the crew, the confused twenty-seven-year-old Adcock, still in love with his wife despite their failed marriage, is a listener and observer by nature and is eminently suited to his profession. Suspicious and wary of everyone, and doubtful of the legality and safety of the expedition, the inwardly disturbed Adcock retires to the peaceful refuge of his wireless station to analyze the expedition and its crew. Devoted to a life of communication, he finds Captain Bennett’s orders of radio silence and the sending of false messages difficult to obey. He occasionally defies these orders. This defiance adds to his excitement about the illegality of it all and foreshadows his ultimate act of defiance, the murder of Captain Bennett. The only surviving member of the crew, Adcock realizes that the communication to which he had devoted his life had, in reality, gotten him nowhere.

Captain Bennett

Captain Bennett, the pilot of the flying boat Aldebaran and leader of an expedition to recover lost gold in the Kerguelen Islands. A taciturn, autocratic perfectionist, the over-forty, gray-haired, cigar-smoking Bennett is a preoccupied, tired, and lonely man. An excellent pilot who is happiest when in the air, he is suspicious of everyone and paranoid about his crew’s...

(The entire section is 539 words.)