The young boy
The young boy, an unnamed war refugee whose wanderings through Eastern Europe (from ages six to twelve) constitute whatever plot the novel can be said to contain. He has no history when his parents, fearful of Nazi reprisals, send him to the country for safekeeping. His first contact is soon lost. As the boy wanders from village to village, as slave or indentured servant to various peasant families, he witnesses scenes of increasing violence and cruelty. His own education follows from these episodes, as he tries to figure out how the world operates and what laws, if any, govern it. When the brutality becomes too much, the boy loses his voice and becomes mute; there is apparently nothing to be said in response to the cruelty here. At the end, reunited with his parents, the boy begins to speak; there is perhaps hope after all. The only real development in what seems a meaningless and disconnected series of cruel and violent incidents in the novel is, in fact, the quest the child makes for some kind of meaningful value system for himself. His selfishness at the beginning—clearly necessary for survival in this world of fear and ignorance—gives way by the end of the novel to a kind of personal self-determination.
Marta, a crippled, superstitious old woman with whom the young boy first lives. After Marta dies of natural causes, the boy accidentally sets fire to her house and burns her body in the conflagration.
Olga, a wise old woman...
(The entire section is 627 words.)