The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Most of the characters in October Light are made to stand for clear-cut, uncompromising political or philosophical positions—positions which they feel driven to expound even when their lives are in danger. Between them, for example, the two main characters exhibit all the conflicting aspects of New England Puritan virtue: Sally, the relentless optimist with a strong drive for progress; James, the relentlessly plodding worker with a seeming incapacity to express any deep emotion other than anger or suspicion of “liberals.” Gardner’s characterizations thus bring to life the “polarization” that was much discussed in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, though his narrative suggests that this polarization has deep historical roots. The fact that the two antagonists also are brother and sister underscores this tragedy of irreconcilables.

Some characters are aware of contradictions within themselves but are not able to reconcile them. One such figure is Lewis Hicks, Ginny’s husband, who emerges as an improbable hero:Right and wrong were as elusive as odors in an old abandoned barn. Lewis knew no certainties. . . . He had no patience with people’s complexities . . . not because people were foolish, in Lewis Hicks’ opinion, or because they got through life on gross and bigoted oversimplifications, though they did, he knew, but because . . . he could too easily see all sides and, more often than not, no hint of a solution.

It is ironic that Lewis can see all sides of a question and still feel intolerant of other people’s complexities....

(The entire section is 645 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

James Page

James Page, a stubbornly conservative, belligerently independent Vermont farmer, seventy-three years old. He is so antimodern that he destroys his sister’s television set, then locks her in her bedroom with a shotgun facing her door. Part of his anger comes from his son Richard’s suicide, which he takes to be a sign of weakness. Nor has he ever forgotten Uncle Ira, who shot himself. James considers himself a rugged descendant of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. He is gripped by chronic constipation. When he almost causes his friend Ed Thomas’ death by fright, he begins to be less uptight and to understand brother-in-law Horace’s accidental death. Later, purged of anger, he finds it impossible to shoot a black bear in search of a honeycomb.

Ariah Page

Ariah Page, James’s former wife, an exceedingly plain woman, now dead. She was often beaten by James yet remained gentle. She never explained to her husband why their son killed himself. Her silence was not the result of vindictiveness but rather of a pledge of secrecy.

Sally Page Abbott

Sally Page Abbott, James’s progressive, eighty-year-old sister. While she is locked up, she reads a fantastic paperback novel, The Smugglers of Lost Souls’ Rock, and lives on apples only. As a result, she suffers from diarrhea. A basket of those apples placed over her door to fall on James, should he try to enter, injures instead the head of the Pages’ daughter, Ginny. Sally relents, ready to be reconciled.

Horace Abbott

Horace Abbott, Sally’s dentist husband, who died of a heart attack twenty years previously. He thought his personal tolerance should be extended to the entire nation, in the name of democracy.

Richard Page

Richard Page, James’s son....

(The entire section is 761 words.)