Mr. Cantor is an orphan who was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather gave him the nickname of Bucky because of his confidence and determination in the face of negative circumstances. He is a fine athlete despite his short height and poor eyesight (which have kept him out of the military). Mr. Canter recently graduated from college with a degree in physical education and has been hired as a coach at a local school. He sees his occupation as more than coaching boys at games:
He wanted to teach these kids to excel in sports as well as in their studies and to value sportsmanship and what could be learned through competition on a playing field...toughness and determination, to be physically brave and physically fit and never to allow themselves to be pushed around.
Mr. Cantor’s unconventional background helps inspire his steadfastness and solidity. His mother died in childbirth, and his father was a thief who went to prison. Mr. Cantor is embarrassed by his father and grateful that his grandparents were able to provide a stable family for him. Yet he feels an absence that his grandparents, however loving, cannot completely fill:
Why was the genuine tenderness of a loving grandmother any less satisfying than the tenderness of a mother? It shouldn’t have been, and yet secretly he felt that it was—and secretly felt ashamed for harboring such a thought.
The evolution of Mr. Cantor’s beliefs works as the foundation for the novel’s plot. In the beginning of the book he is strong and assured, but as the panic of the epidemic grows, he becomes less confident in himself and in what he preaches to the boys. Mr. Cantor vacillates when the first wave of suffering touches him, but he stays true to what he believes. Then he surrenders when the suffering worsens and he is offered a way out. During his time at Indian Hill, Mr. Cantor seems willing to forget his ethical compass in exchange for happiness and freedom. But the recurrence of polio throws him into an abyss...
(The entire section is 861 words.)