The Reverend Jethro Furber
The Reverend Jethro Furber, a fiery preacher from Cleveland who despairs of his assignment to Gilean, an Ohio River town. Short, pale, bone-thin, and intellectual, Furber uses his Sunday sermons to excoriate his parishioners, but he does not believe one word he preaches. A master of the dramatic and rhetorical turn, Furber is a jumble of contradictions: a devil-worshiping minister, a philosophical relativist, a skeptic, and a cynic. Like a small child working a puzzle, he has trouble holding together his complex “modern” parts. Despairing of human love and brotherhood, he is a misanthrope who simultaneously hates and envies his congregational “cows.” Unloved and neglected as a child, Furber developed an inferiority complex that manifests itself in paranoia, delusions, and a negative self-image: He sees himself as a clumsy, comic buffoon who aspires to the lightness and grace of ballet. His paranoia leads to a unilateral attack on Brackett Omensetter, whom he views as a competing religionist. Furber spreads lies about Omensetter’s supposed black magical powers to mobilize public opinion against him. Furber is an Old Testament scholar who enjoys reading biblical passages about violence and family bloodletting. When the opportunity arises to deal Omensetter a fatal blow, however, he retreats; he is the theoretician par excellence, not a man of action. He strikes a deal with Omensetter: Omensetter and family can leave town once Henry Pimber’s body is recovered and properly buried. While defending Omensetter from Sheriff Curtis Chamlay’s search party, Furber suffers a mental breakdown. Later, he disappears from Gilean.
Brackett Omensetter, a leatherworker with extraordinary luck who goes to work for the local blacksmith, Matthew Watson. A large, wide, and happy man, Omensetter habitually spreads out his big arms as if to gather in the entire world; his every word and gesture bespeak his humanity and love of life. Charismatic, he is irresistible to the locals, but his natural saintliness makes them envious and suspicious. They believe that he is protecting a secret. As instinctual, spontaneous, and magical as he appears initially, he is a mere mortal, like Adam, made of clay. The townspeople’s hostility wears away at him. He is systematically excluded from everything communal, from horseshoe pitching to fishing, and his primitive side gives way. Meeting Henry Pimber to pay his rent on the fatal day, Omensetter dons conventional clothing; suddenly, Pimber realizes that there is nothing extraordinary about him. Later, after discovering Henry’s body hanging from an...
(The entire section is 1091 words.)