The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The protagonist emerges as a girl of acute sensitivity who suffers more than her share of fear and guilt. She fears everything from lockjaw to the Druids, from being kidnaped to the imagined death of her mother. Some of her fear is related to sex and results from her religious upbringing. She is shocked when she sees young couples embracing outside a cafe, and when her cousin exposes his chest to her she is overwhelmed by thoughts of sin and the Devil. It is nakedness which she fears most of all.

Her religious nature is clear throughout: At one point, she experiences what she hopes is religious ecstasy, and later she sees herself with Jesus in a vision. She devises the most unpleasant forms of penance for herself, with the simple logic of the child: “Everything you did was the opposite to what you wanted to do.”

Her embrace of the sisterhood is therefore no surprise, particularly when it is remembered that throughout the story she is closer to women than to men. Almost all the men she encounters are threatening figures. She cannot, for example, bear her father’s attempts to kiss her: “You told yourself that you were not experiencing anything and in that way you didn’t.” At one point, she even fears that her father may try to seduce her. In contrast, she feels extremely close to her sister and to her mother.

Her father is an experienced farmer and a local peace commissioner, which causes him to boast that he has...

(The entire section is 573 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The protagonist

The protagonist, an intelligent, imaginative, sensitive, ten-year-old, pubescent schoolgirl in the superstition-ridden, legend-haunted West of Ireland. She is never given a name except “you.” In her close, proscriptive, Roman Catholic village community, the girl grows up. Smart, very observant, and bookish, she goes through a series of initiations. She is present at a violent family row in which her pregnant, unmarried sister Emma is packed off to Dublin to have her child and have it adopted. She experiences her own sexual awakening at the hands of a young priest, Father Declan, who ejaculates on her closed thighs. Her second sexual arousal follows when her brutal father, to punish her for her conduct with the priest, beats her bare buttocks with a school ruler. Still vulnerable, priggish, nasty, and hypocritical, she escapes from her restrictive home, village, and country (if not immediately from the church) by becoming a novice in the Order of the Enfants de Marie convent in Belgium.

Her father

Her father, a drunken, violent, horse-fancying farmer. Generous to a fault, he is headed rapidly down on the social scale.

Her mother

Her mother, who married above her social station and is a martyr to her husband’s violently shifting moods. To salvage some personal satisfaction, she lives the lie of married bliss and keeps both the newly arrived village doctor and the...

(The entire section is 412 words.)