The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 532

David Canaan is a complex, precocious, and introverted young man, dissatisfied with the routine of physical drudgery on his family farm. If he is to some extent an autobiographical character, resembling Buckler in his mathematical precision in language and hypersensitivity to philosophical and psychological nuances, he also becomes a Christlike figure in his suffering. Indeed, the family name, the parental names of Joseph and Martha, his brother Christopher, the wounds inflicted on him, his princely role in the Christmas play, and his apotheosis at the end of the novel with the partridge soaring—all these details lend weight to this interpretation of his character. Buckler, however, is mainly interested in presenting a portrait of the artist as a young man.

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David’s sensitivity to language becomes excruciatingly painful to him and to the reader as he indulges in similes and repetitions that differ from the repetitive cliches of other characters. By the end of the novel, his linguistic quest places him in a mathematical maze:

  Then the forks’ forks fork, like the chicken-wire pattern of atoms.... He heard the crushing screaming challenge of the infinite permutations of the possible ... the billion raised to the billionth power.... Myself thinking of myself screaming ‘Stop,’ thinking of myself thinking of myself thinking of....

His solipsism is literally and figuratively a dead end after the departures and deaths of friends and family. While David always wanted to be close to those around him, his artistic temperament distances him from others and places him in isolation.

David’s grandmother exists as a static character, one who outlives her children and remains constant to her memories despite advancing senility. She refers to David as “child,” not knowing whether she is addressing an eight-year-old or a young man of thirty, for she is totally involved in hooking together her family rug. She associates each color of the rug with a different member of the family or a different incident out of the past, so, like her grandson, she is herself an artistic figure, stitching time and fabrics.

Buckler treats the rest of the Canaan family with affection, proudly demonstrating their dexterity and industriousness in farm labor. Joseph is skilled in all of his work and creates a sense of harmony in all of the family’s activities. David respects his father’s strength but needs to rebel against his limited agrarian scope. Joseph and Martha are closely tied to each other in the routine and rhythm of farm work, reflecting the kind of unity symbolized in Ellen’s hooking together the bits of family clothing. Like his father, Chris excels in physical activities but stands in sharp contrast to his intellectual younger brother. Anna is David’s twin, not only genetically but also in spirit, and there are suggestions of incest in parts of the novel as David loses Effie and Toby takes Anna away. Like the Canaans, all the families in Entremont participate in the closeness of a community that Buckler admires despite its limitations. These limitations are exaggerated because they are filtered through David’s highly discriminating consciousness and sensitivity to language. Even Toby, who represents the larger world beyond Entremont, falls short of David’s expectations.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

David Canaan

David Canaan, a sensitive, ardent boy who is deeply involved with his family and the routines of farm life in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia yet is also increasingly drawn into a fascination with words. As he matures, his relationships with his family and his friend Toby are disrupted by life’s inevitable events and accidents, but his ability to...

(The entire section contains 1161 words.)

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Critical Essays