Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on July 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1596

Richard and Janet Gayford

Richard and Janet Gayford are residents of Midwich. They have gone off to London to celebrate Richard’s birthday and thus miss the events of the “Dayout,” when everyone is rendered unconscious in Midwich. This sets Richard up to be the book’s narrator, as he is able...

(The entire section contains 1596 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Richard and Janet Gayford

Richard and Janet Gayford are residents of Midwich. They have gone off to London to celebrate Richard’s birthday and thus miss the events of the “Dayout,” when everyone is rendered unconscious in Midwich. This sets Richard up to be the book’s narrator, as he is able to observe and relate events in the town with relative objectivity. Richard admits, “I am not a countryman, I only live there.” He is pleasantly social and good-natured, and he is stubbornly stupid when the book’s plot requires him to be. Readers never learn Richard’s actual profession, and in fact, we don’t learn much more about Richard at all, as he is a stand-in for John Wyndham and is the book’s omniscient narrator.

Richard’s wife, Janet, is portrayed as the more tough-minded member of the couple. She reacts coldly to Bernard’s suggestion that she and Richard spy on their fellow villagers, though eventually she agrees to do so as it does seem in the best interests of the town. Both are skeptical of the various fantastic explanations for events and eventually decide to leave Midwich soon after the Children are born. As Janet states,

It’s been bad enough as it is, and thank goodness we’re out of it. I’ve had enough of Midwich, and I don’t care if I never hear of the place again.

Fortunately for readers, Richard is later convinced to return to Midwich by his government friend Bernard, and so the narrator (who is apparently a very good interviewer) continues to faithfully report the story’s events.

Bernard Westcott

Bernard is an old army friend of Richard’s (they were stationed in Europe together during World War II). He is now an Army Colonel and is investigating the Midwich incident. Bernard plays his cards close to his chest, gathering evidence but rarely revealing information until late in the book. Early on he asks his friends the Gayfords to basically spy on the Midwich village and report back to him on everything that happens there, to be his eyes on the ground. He is well connected throughout the town and in the government, and if anything happens in the unfortunate town, he knows about it.

When a local town boy shoots one of the Children and is subsequently willed by the Children to blow his own brains out, Bernard is on the scene and leads the human response—his army training keeps him clear-headed during this dreadful incident. Later, after a larger group of villagers, on the march to seek vengeance for the Children’s actions, are dealt with in a similar manner and violently set upon one another by the Children, Bernard is keen-minded enough to tell the skeptical chief constable,

It’s not that they are backward. The special school was opened because they are different. They are morally responsible for last night’s trouble, but that isn’t the same as being legally responsible. There’s nothing you can charge them with.

Also, Bernard’s government department does not want the Children antagonized or publicized. He is a good soldier and follows orders from his higher-ups, though later in the book, as the Children’s powers and violence escalate, he drinks a lot of whiskey to keep his nerves in

Angela Zellaby

Angela is Gordon Zellaby’s forty-something second wife. She discovers she is pregnant after the Dayout incident at Midwich. She finds herself recruited into the role of leading the mothers of Midwich through their pregnancy. She leads the initial town hall meeting to talk about the situation. She is portrayed as smart, patient, and observant, a well as a good leader who is sensitive but also does not brook interruptions when she is talking. Though exhausted, she goes the extra mile for her fellow mothers—she understands what they need, and she needs it too: mutual support in an impossible situation. When the babies are born, Angela discovers that her baby “has the Zellaby nose”; that is, the child looks like Gordon—her baby is truly human and not one of the Children. But during her pregnancy, and before she knows this, Angela is able to articulate what most of the mothers feel, their fear and frustration and anger:

As if one were not a person at all, but just a kind of mechanism, a sort of incubator. . . . And then go on wondering, hour after hour, night after night, what—just what it may be that one is being forced to incubate. Of course you can’t understand how that feels—how could you! It’s degrading, it’s intolerable. I shall crack soon. I know I shall. I can’t go on like this much longer.

The Children

The Children are the offspring of the mothers of Midwich and some type of alien entity. They are impregnated in the women during the night when everyone in the town has mysteriously become unconscious. The Children gestate in their hosts at a normal rate. At birth, they share the same general physical traits—a slight silver sheen to their skin, silky dirty blonde hair, and golden eyes. They all look alike—it is almost impossible to distinguish boy from boy or girl from girl, at least at a glance. The Children are immediately aware of each other and are observed to stare at one another constantly, almost as if they are silently communicating with one another (which they are). They share a hive-mind consciousness, one for each gender group. If one girl learns the trick of how to open a trick box to find a sweet, all of the other girls instantly know how to open the box. If one boy is pricked with a pin, all of the boys experience the same pain.

From the start, the Children exhibit a ruthless response to any perceived attacks. No matter the cause, accident or no, they use their powers of mental compulsion to punish the attackers. A mother who accidentally jabs her baby with a pin is willed to do the same to herself. By the time they are nine years old, they can all articulate as well or better than any adult, and their bodies have aged to appear in their mid-teens. The Children’s single-minded self-protection only grows over time. In response to the outraged interrogation of the Chief Constable after a violent incident, one of the boys says,

Do we have to go round in circles? I have answered your questions because we thought it better that you should understand the situation. As you apparently have not grasped it, I will put it more plainly. It is that if there is any attempt to interfere with us or molest us, by anybody, we shall defend ourselves. We have shown that we can, and we hope that that will be warning enough to prevent further trouble.

When the Chief Constable erupts with understandable (to us) human anger and threatens the boy, the Children coolly drive the man insane. When questioned about why, the boy says,

He wanted to frighten us, so we have shown him what it means to be frightened. He’ll understand better now.

The Children are chillingly not like humans, and yet their will to survive and protect each other is perfectly understandable, which makes them all the more frightening.

Gordon Zellaby

Professor Gordon Zellaby is a sixty-five–year-old, brilliant and much-published philosopher, historian, and author, well known for his works, who lives in Midwich. He is at first comically portrayed as a somewhat absent-minded intellectual, easily lost in a subtle train of thought but unable to immediately recall who was present at the dinner table that night. After the shocking discovery that the women in the town have become inexplicably pregnant, it is Zellaby who first admits to and explores the fantastical possibilities, that the ova were not so much conceived as incubated, perhaps by xenogenesis. Zellaby is faithfully supportive of his wife, Angela, during her pregnancy.

Impatient with stupidity, Zellaby finds the head-in-the-sand attitude of many of his Midwich fellow villagers about the events infuriating. Later, after the Children are born and grown to the age of nine, he befriends them and is constantly trying to understand their motives, even during the most trying situations, though he can tell there is a barrier to ever truly befriending them—they simply don’t care about humans. When Angela admits she has a “cowardly respect” for the Children, Zellaby replies, “The dove is not a coward to fear the hawk; it is simply wise.” He clearly sees the central nature of the problem with the Children: it is “us versus them,” and the Children are humanity’s predators. After the disturbing incident with the Chief Constable, he tells Bernard,

The situation vis-à-vis the Children would seem to be that we have not grasped that they represent a danger to our species, while they are in no doubt that we are a danger to theirs. And they intend to survive. We might do well to remind ourselves what that intention implies. We can watch it any day in a garden; it is a fight that goes perpetually, bitterly, lawlessly, without trace of mercy or compassion . . .

In the finale, Zellaby sacrifices himself by smuggling explosives into the presence of the Children and blowing them (and himself) up. He exhibits a bravery with his selfless act that few in the book can match, because he is willing to go into “the garden” and fight for the survival of his species.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Midwich Cuckoos Study Guide

Subscribe Now