Lew is the central character of the novel. Initially perceived as brooding, he gradually reveals strength and resourcefulness upon which people are able to depend. His personality derives from and reflects the Passage itself: placid and vulnerable at times, yet determined to survive, endure, and sustain others.
Hughie, on the other hand, is more of a gambler, willing to work but also hooked on the idea of glamorous projects and fast money. He is quick to rely on the resources of others, slow to acknowledge his debts to his family. One hopes by the end of the novel that mother’s onetime favorite has become aware of his own limitations (as have Lew and Clem) and will act more responsibly as a result.
Clem has left the Passage feeling it insufficient for her dreams. She discovers that her estimation was wrong: Although she does not regret her time away—in fact, defending it as necessary—she is pleased to return to the locale that inspired her originally. Her journey is not much different from the walkabouts of Bob and Lew.
Palmer sacrifices depth in some of his characters to heighten the debate between those who would exploit the Passage and those who wish to preserve it. Some characters exist to represent points of view: Osborne and Craigie, for example. The characterization of Lena seems to be a conscious (and visible) effort to avoid this problem: Palmer rounds her out by showing that her sympathies do not lie wholly in one camp. Still, her movement from the Osborne camp, as realized in her marriage to Lew, seems improbable and false. Her emotional life seems contrived. Best among the minor characters are those who are native to the Passage, whom Palmer draws with vibrancy and uniqueness found in good local-color fiction.