The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea Characters

Randolph Stow

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Between the ages of six and thirteen, Rob Coram passes through the stages of life experienced by any young boy. His rite of passage is not extraordinary, but its evocation by Randolph Stow is richer than many similar fictional accounts. Particularly fully depicted is the intellectual development of the child during the course of a friendship with his much older cousin Rick.

Rick strongly influences Rob’s identity, as does Rob’s evacuation to the country. The influence of Rick is opposed, however, by that of Rob’s family and schooling. During and after the war, he is forced to choose between Rick’s skeptical frame of mind and the ethnocentricity and violence that he learns when, for example, he hunts and practices warfare with his friends. Farm life makes Rob an amalgam of “bush kid” and “town kid,” a mixed blessing. When he returns to town, he is at odds with his schoolmates.

Before the war, Rick was a rugged, bronzed, blue-eyed outdoorsman, sportsman, and eminently likable young man. An egalitarian by nature, he treated Rob as a peer despite the fourteen-year difference in their ages. Rob, in return, determines at a young age to emulate Rick in every way he can, and does so, much to his mother’s consternation, when Rick returns from the war, embittered, disillusioned, and disoriented.

The friendship is based on faith, a quality that Rick, ironically, largely loses during captivity. Their bond has been sealed, it...

(The entire section is 575 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rob Coram

Rob Coram, a six-year-old when his cousin Rick, whom he idolizes, is sent from their small town in Western Australia to fight in World War II. Rob is alive to his senses and grows up registering the colors, smells, and sounds of his small town and the differing sensations in the farm life of his grandparents. He learns about sex from young friends and about the war from the newspaper and from the foreign boats and immigrants coming into Geraldton, the harbor town where he lives. His most perplexing experience of war comes from studying his distraught cousin Rick when Rick returns home from Malaya. As Rob grows older after the end of the war, aging from ten to thirteen, he comes to hate killing animals. Although his perceptions change from those of a child to those of an adolescent, he remains sensitive, poetic, and reflective. His goal is to swim to the wrecked ship off the coast, which is to him the mysterious merry-go-round in the sea.

Rick Maplestead

Rick Maplestead, the handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed cousin of Rob Coram. He fights for Australia in World War II. Rick leaves home a cheery optimist but is humiliated, starved, and degraded in a prisoner of war camp in Malaya. When he returns to Geraldton, skinny and sick, he disappoints Rob and the family as the months pass because of his constant negative outlook and his unwillingness to develop a goal or to fit in. He is emotionally troubled; he curses...

(The entire section is 476 words.)