The Characters

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

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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.

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 articulate their significance develops. At the end, separated by deaths and marriages from everyone except his grandmother, he ascends the mountain and dies while experiencing a transfiguring vision of the power of the writer to capture time and reality.

Anna Canaan

Anna Canaan, the twin sister of David, to whom she is closely attuned. Their often unspoken understanding dwindles somewhat after she falls in love with and marries Toby, David’s friend, who is sometimes perceived as looking very much like David.

Toby Richmond

Toby Richmond, a pen pal and friend of David, subsequently Anna’s husband. He has dark hair, light-blue eyes, and a smooth body on which his clothes fit easily. He is open, free of affectations, and unimpressed by conventions and social stratagems. Growing up in the great port of Halifax, he always has been interested in ships; he joins the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. David often wishes that he were more like Toby.

Christopher (Chris) Canaan

Christopher (Chris) Canaan, the elder brother of David and Anna. In his acceptance of farm life and his inarticulateness, Chris is more like his father than is David. In childhood, he shows affectionate concern for his siblings, but they grow apart after he becomes involved with Charlotte Gorman, whom he gets pregnant and marries. He returns to Canada after being wounded in the foot in World War II. His marriage founders, and he moves to the West.

Joseph Canaan

Joseph Canaan, the father of Chris, David, and Anna. He has dark hair, dark sober eyes, and a body corded with muscles. Determined and kind, he is rarely able to express his affection for and pride in his family. He is killed while felling a tree alone on the mountain.

Martha Canaan

Martha Canaan, Joseph’s wife. A hardworking and compassionate woman, she is so closely attuned to her husband that if another person, even one of their children, comes into either’s thoughts, that other is like a second person, not a third. She dies of a seizure concurrent with her husband’s death.

Ellen Canaan

Ellen Canaan, Joseph’s mother. As their grandmother, she is a confidante to the children. She tells Anna of the sailor she hid and fed for a week early in her marriage and later gives David the locket that contains the picture of the sailor. She is continually weaving a rug out of the family’s discarded clothes, just as in her memory she preserves fragments out of all their lives. At the end, she is the only one left on the farm.

Effie Delahunt

Effie Delahunt, a shy and gentle classmate of David. At his importuning, she yields to him in a wet field. Her death soon afterward leaves David guilt-ridden, for he is unaware that leukemia, not he, caused it.

Bess Delahunt

Bess Delahunt, whose husband, Pete, drowned trying to save Spurge Gorman. She is too yielding to the local men and even seeks to console David physically during his distress at the death of her daughter Effie.

Rachel Gorman

Rachel Gorman, whose husband, Spurge, is drowned in a log drive. A gossip, she continually causes trouble in other people’s lives.

Charlotte Gorman

Charlotte Gorman, the daughter of Rachel. Her sexual responsiveness to Chris Canaan leads to pregnancy and their getting married, but the marriage does not last, and she returns to her mother.




Critical Essays